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  • Writer's pictureCerissa Rhodes

Why ERP Therapy for Children is vital in the treatment of Anxiety and OCD

Updated: Feb 4

In this post, I delve into Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, a highly effective treatment

approach for anxiety and OCD in children. I understand the concerns you may have as a parent (I had the them too!), and my aim is to provide you with valuable insights and practical tips to support your child through ERP.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a specialized form of therapy designed to help people overcome anxiety and OCD by slowly exposing them to feared situations or triggers while preventing their typical response or ritual. This therapeutic approach helps rewire the brain's response patterns and reduce anxiety and OCD symptoms over time. While the idea of forcing your child to face their fear may seem unbearable, rest assured you and your child have full control of the process. Your child will be learning skills to manage their distress while being exposed to fears.

Kids wearing superhero caps
Kids learn how to be superheroes by facing their fears

Research consistently shows that ERP is effective in treating anxiety and OCD in children. In fact, studies reveal that approximately 70-80% of children experience significant improvement with ERP.

Here are some key benefits of ERP:

  1. Child build resilience: ERP empowers children to face their fears while developing coping strategies that build resilience. They gradually learn to tolerate discomfort and develop the skills needed to manage anxiety and OCD symptoms.

  2. Children increase their independence: Through ERP, children gain a sense of control and independence. As they face their fears and engage in exposure exercises, they become more confident in their abilities to navigate anxiety-provoking situations independently. This is vital to long term success.

  3. Improved Quality of Life: ERP gives children the tools to effectively manage anxiety and OCD symptoms, leading to an improved overall quality of life. They can engage in activities they once avoided and develop healthier patterns of thinking and behavior.

Once you are on board as the parent, getting your child willing to participate in ERP can be a challenge. Here are some tips to get them to participate:

  1. Open Communication: Maintain open and honest communication with your child about their anxiety or OCD. Explain the purpose of ERP therapy, ensuring them that it is a supportive process designed to help them overcome their fears. Share that ERP teaches them how to face their fears and overtime anxiety and OCD will no longer "destroy their life" as one client (age 11) puts it.

  2. Age-Appropriate Education: Explain the concept of ERP in a way your child understands. Use relatable examples to illustrate how facing fears and resisting rituals (compulsions) can lead to less anxiety and more confidence. i.e. Facing the fear of germs by opening the bathroom door to enter, completing all toileting acts and only engaging in handwashing for 30 seconds at the end of the task.

  3. Establish Realistic Goals: Work with your child to set small, achievable goals for their therapy. Breaking down larger objectives into smaller, manageable steps can make the process less overwhelming and more attainable.

  4. Utilize Incentives: Incentives can be effective in motivating your child's engagement in ERP. I HIGHLY recommend using a reward system, where they earn small rewards or privileges for completing exposure exercises or overcoming specific challenges. I have found this to be vital in gain trust and participation.

Even with this tips some children may initially resist trying ERP. It is scary to face their fears. Here are a few options to consider:

  1. Therapist Consultation: Consult with your child's therapist to gain insights into their specific concerns and develop strategies tailored to their needs. Therapists who specialize in anxiety and OCD treatment can offer valuable guidance and support. With Your Story Rewritten, we will work as a team to overcome your child's resistance.

  2. Gradual Exposure: It is extremely important to start with exposures that are slightly challenging but manageable for your child. Sometimes, I suggest giving incentives for the slightest exposure initially. By gradually increasing the difficulty level, your child may become more receptive to the process.

  3. Family Involvement: Engage the entire family in supporting your child's ERP journey. This creates a supportive environment where everyone understands the therapeutic process and can offer encouragement along the way.

As parents, it is natural to find it hard to see your child struggle with anxiety or OCD. ERP is a the most evidenced-basd and effective treatment approach that can lead to significant improvements in their well-being. By understanding ERP, actively engaging your child in therapy, and utilizing the practical tips mentioned above, you are playing an important role in their recovery process.

Remember, every child progresses at their own pace, and setbacks are a normal part of the journey. Trust the expertise of therapists and remain patient and supportive throughout the process. With your unwavering support, your child WILL develop invaluable skills to overcome anxiety and OCD, paving the way for a brighter future.

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