Janet Singer’s son Dan suffered from OCD so severe that he could not even eat. She worried he’d never again be able to function in society, or even worse, survive. After navigating through a disorienting maze of treatments and programs, Dan made a triumphant recovery. Janet has become an advocate for OCD awareness with the goal of spreading the word that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. There is so much hope for those with this disorder. Janet, who uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy, is the author of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, published in January 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield. Her own blog, www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com, has reached readers in 183 countries. She is married with three children and resides in New England.
My 17-year-old son Dan correctly diagnosed himself with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) back in 2006. A couple of years later he hit rock bottom, with OCD so severe he could not even eat. Since 2010 I have chronicled his, and my, story extensively in both my book, Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, and my blog, ocdtalk. When I was recently asked what my son’s journey taught me about exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, I realized that while I’ve addressed aspects of this subject in many of my posts, I had never addressed this specific question directly. So here goes!
While ERP therapy is the evidence-based psychological therapy for OCD recommended by the American Psychological Association, it is surprisingly unfamiliar to many psychologists and therapists. This fact is actually what propelled me forward as an advocate for OCD awareness and proper treatment. OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable, but you need the right treatment. Even more upsetting to me is the fact that there are therapists who know about ERP therapy but either don’t utilize it or use it improperly. To me, this is highly unacceptable and quite disturbing.
While ERP therapy might seem counterintuitive at first glance, it actually makes a lot of sense. I grew up in a loving home, but anxiety and avoidance were prevalent. Afraid to drive? Well then, don’t get your driver’s license. Honestly, my parents had no idea how detrimental their reasoning and actions were. In ERP therapy, those with OCD are asked to face their fears, and then refrain from using compulsions to ease their anxiety. As many of us know, there is no way around anxiety, only a way through it. We need to face what scares us head on, and this applies to all of us, not just those with OCD.
ERP therapy is really about accepting the uncertainty of life. For those with OCD, compulsions are a way to “make sure” all will be well. I put those words in quotation marks because certainty, for any of us, is an illusion. Dan needed to stop asking, “How can I be certain?” and start asking, “How can I live with uncertainty?” Interestingly, I had to do the same, and accept the uncertainty of what the future might hold for my son. Our “what ifs” were gradually replaced with “We will deal with whatever is.” Instead of focusing on the uncertainties of the past or future, people with OCD, through ERP therapy, learn to concentrate on what matters most: the present.
Those with OCD who forge ahead with ERP therapy are some of the bravest people I know. I’ve been saying this for years. I know firsthand how tough ERP therapy was for Dan, and I have also connected with many people who have shared their immense challenges with this treatment. Perhaps this is one of the hardest things for those of us without OCD to understand — how terribly difficult therapy can be. But here’s the thing. It is so worth it. I have never met anyone who regretted fighting their OCD with ERP therapy. Their only regret was not doing it sooner.
ERP therapy works. When a person with OCD works with a qualified therapist and commits to ERP therapy, the results are often life-changing. My son had severe OCD. Today he is a young man working in his chosen field, going for a master’s degree, and living with his girlfriend. His story is not unusual for those who get the right help.
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About a year ago, Dan told me he signed up for an OCD research study at a teaching hospital to earn a little extra money. He completed all the paperwork and testing, but was rejected for the study. Why? Clinically, he did not meet the criteria for having OCD. What a testament to my son’s courage and determination to beat this insidious disorder, with the help of ERP therapy.
If you or someone you know is dealing with symptoms of OCD please let us know how we can help. Schedule a 15 minute phone call to find out more about how ERP therapy can be effective for you.