For those of you who follow my blog, it’s no secret that I’m an ardent proponent of Exposure and Response Prevention therapy for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. My son Dan was almost completely debilitated by severe OCD, and now he is living his life to the fullest, thanks to ERP therapy.
ERP therapy works. Almost daily, I read about and hear from people who have benefited from ERP therapy. But it’s not an easy undertaking. The therapy itself is anxiety-provoking and many OCD sufferers find it too difficult to commit to. ERP therapy can also be quite complicated, and therefore finding a competent therapist with the proper training is important. This is often difficult to do because of a shortage of qualified professionals as well as a lack of understanding and awareness of the therapy.
In a recent Storied Mind Newsletter, John Folk-Williams recommends this article which discusses a recent study where researchers determined how treatment for anxiety disorders (specifically exposure therapy) silences fear neurons. While I’ve known that ERP therapy “retrains the brain” this is the first article I’ve read that details exactly how the brain is remodeled, and it has a lot to do with perisomatic inhibitory synapses. The article states:
Perisomatic inhibitory synapses are connections between neurons that enable one group of neurons to silence another group of neurons. Exposure therapy increases the number of perisomatic inhibitory synapses around fear neurons in the amygdala. This increase provides an explanation for how exposure therapy silences fear neurons.
I think the findings from this study are exciting, mainly because the more we understand how various treatments (in this case, exposure therapy) work, the easier it will be to improve upon them. This newfound knowledge might even lead to the development of different therapies that more people might benefit from. The study does not address what happens to the brain during the “response prevention” part of ERP therapy, as it only concentrates on exposure therapy. It would be great to learn more about what happens in the brain during response prevention.
We have a treatment that works for OCD. While it’s not perfect, dedicated researchers are working hard to make it better. That’s a big step, and a reason to be optimistic. There truly is so much hope for those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder.