If looks could kill, I would be dead. We were standing in a parking lot, and I was rubbing my hands over the tires then touching my face and hair. I told my client to do the same, and through her tears she mumbled something to the effect of “I hate you.” Fast forward several weeks. We were standing in the parking lot again, and she chatted freely as she contaminated all the items in her car. Suddenly she looked up and smiled. “I’m really going to beat OCD!” (She has given me permission to share this.)
It’s one thing to read the self-help books or write an exposure hierarchy. It’s another thing entirely to touch trash or drive without checking or go into a gay bar. People look at me as if I have two heads when I say we are going to do this thing now. I confess a little part of me wonders, “Does this really work? Am I just torturing this person?” It does work.1 Within a relatively short time, the anxiety significantly decreases. The person scores a win over OCD.
OCD thinking says, “Avoid your fears. You must be safe and protect other people. You must be sure.” Healthy thinking involves facing your fears and doing the scary thing even when it feels too dangerous. My courageous clients demonstrate over and over that exposure works most of the time. They learn to talk back to OCD and to replace “What if?” thoughts with “I can face uncertainty” thoughts.
I recently came across a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that captures the essence of exposure and response prevention. “I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do, provided he keeps doing them until he gets a record of successful experience behind him.”
You can do it. I’m not kidding.
(1ERP works for about 75% of people.)