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Starting Exposure Therapy: What’s it Like?

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For anyone new to exposure-based therapy, such as exposure and response prevention (ERP), there is often much anticipatory anxiety about starting treatment. “What is it? What will it be like? How bad will it be? Can I handle it? Will I be forced to do things I’m unwilling to do?” These uncertainties are typical for most people beginning the process. They’re also understandable. When you begin treatment, it often feels like you’re putting your fate in someone else’s hands. Because that someone is typically a stranger (i.e., your therapist), it would be a bit odd if you didn’t feel that way. Moreover, if you know the basics of exposure therapy, you understand that eventually you’ll be confronting the very things you fear. Some people accept this prospect with dread but others feel a sort of nervous anticipation. Although they...

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Does Non-Avoidance = Exposure? No! Anxiety Disorder Treatment Principles for OCD, Panic, Social Anxiety, & Phobias.

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Anxiety Principle of the Day: Non-Avoidance is not equivalent to exposure. Although exposure is predicated upon the purposeful non-avoidance of anxiety-related stimuli, non-avoidance of anxiety triggers is not equivalent to exposure. What is non-avoidance? I liken non-avoidance to being in a particular place at a particular time. Essentially, it involves being in a situation in which your anxiety is triggered by proximity to anxiety-related cues. Non-avoidance requires no action on your part aside from being physically present in the situation. As such, like a hole, it’s possible for a person to accidentally stumble into a non-avoidance exercise. Isn’t that the same thing as exposure? No. Exposure is not merely a situation, and as such, it can’t be entered into by accident. Although exposure therapy has situational elements, it is a dynamic experience that has best practices, as well as...

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Exposure Therapy’s Most Common Mistake: All Eggs in the Habituation Basket

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Many people have an incomplete understanding of exposure therapy… …be it exposure and response prevention (ERP) for OCD, intentional mistake practice for social anxiety, or interoceptive exposures for panic disorder… This is true for exposure newbies, seasoned exposure veterans, and even some good CBT therapists. This limited understanding is based on the following flawed logic: Premise 1: Anxiety disorders involve fear. Premise 2: Fear is reduced through habituation. Premise 3: Habituation is accomplished via exposure. Conclusion: Habituation is the process by which individuals recover from anxiety disorders. Note: This conclusion is only partially correct. Exposure, when done right, is about much more than just habituation. It’s about learning to see the world in a new way and developing a different type of relationship with your symptoms. Exposure can help you challenge unhealthy, false beliefs about yourself and the world;...

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OCD Treatment: OCD vs. Me. How do I Tell the Difference?

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Question: Because many of my OCD rituals are related to my professional identity, I’m worried that changing my rituals will somehow change those parts of me that I like (e.g., my personal goals and ambitions). Should I be concerned about this? Early Onset OCD in Kids & Teens (Pediatric OCD) Many people worry that by fighting their OCD, they will lose essential parts of themselves. This is particularly true for adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, who have had to deal with OCD for most of their lives. Because OCD often begins early in childhood and can have a chronic course, it can be difficult to separate yourself from your OCD symptoms. In many pediatric OCD cases, kids with OCD exhibit symptoms by age 10. Shockingly, in certain cases, even toddlers can show clinical signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are...

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Pure-O OCD Rituals: Starting Over, Resetting, & Undoing

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Question: It’s hard to describe this, but I feel like every few days I need to mentally “start over” by doing a variety of mental and behavioral rituals. I don’t want to live like this, but I’m afraid that if I undergo treatment and stop my OCD rituals, I won’t be the same person with the same drives. Starting Over, Resetting, & Undoing Compulsions in OCD First, please rest assured that you’re not alone in experiencing these symptoms. Many people with OCD (“Pure-O” or otherwise) refer to them as “starting over” compulsions, “resetting” compulsions, or “undoing” compulsions, which serve the function of returning to a clean mental slate. Sometimes these compulsions consist of particular movements, self-statements, mental activities, or complex rituals with both behavioral and mental components. They are not as common as other types of rituals (e.g., washing,...

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