This post first appeared on my blog in March 2011. I revised it slightly and think it is worth sharing again…..
I recently read this blog post which brings up a discussion that occurred at an OCD support group. I think almost everyone with OCD who has used exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy would agree it can be very effective. One of the problems with it, however, is that by its very nature it is anxiety provoking. Who wants to willingly subject themselves to sometimes seemingly intolerable levels of anxiety and discomfort?
So the question is: Do you seek out these anxiety provoking experiences, even going so far as to create them yourself, or do you just wait for them to come to you? You know they will, sooner or later.
When my son Dan began dealing with his severe OCD he would often say to me, “Make me do this,” or “Make me go here,” or “Don’t let me do this or that.” I don’t think either of us realized it at the time (I know I certainly didn’t) but he was instinctively engaging in ERP therapy. At that point, he had not had any proper treatment for his OCD. Still, even in his debilitated state, he somehow knew that exposing himself to what he feared most was his ticket out of the torturous cycle of OCD.
To those of us without obsessive-compulsive disorder it might seem like a no-brainer. If this is the therapy that works, of course you should continue to practice it as much as possible. Sure, easy for us to say. But if you have OCD, and your brain has been relatively quiet for a while, why would you want to shake things up? Why not enjoy the peace when you have it and deal with whatever you need to deal with when it comes along?
There is no right or wrong answer here. Or is there? OCD is tricky and often rears its ugly head when you least expect it to. The more you choose to embrace ERP therapy, the better your chances are of beating OCD at its own game. So should you try to enjoy the calm before the storm, or should you create your own storms regularly in hopes of completely changing the weather pattern?
I’d choose the latter.