Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy addresses the underlying fears of both obsessions and compulsions. Early in your therapy sessions, your therapist will educate you about OCD and equip you with skills you can use to reduce anxiety.
Your therapist will also help you identify the situations and events that trigger obsessive thoughts and anxiety. They’ll help you figure out whether these events are related to people, things, places, feelings, or sensory stimuli, such as smells or sounds.
Your therapist will usually give you an opportunity to describe the actions you feel compelled to perform and how these compulsions are related to the fears you feel. Once you’ve identified your triggers, your therapist will help you rank them according to how upsetting they are.
Over time, you and your therapist will gradually confront each of your fears, starting with the least upsetting. This will allow you to practice calming yourself with the skills you’ve learned.
The goal is for you to be able to reduce your anxiety on your own which, in turn, may help lessen the need for rituals and compulsions to ease your fear.
Not everyone who starts a course of ERP sticks to it. But for those who do, research shows that ERP can be a very effective method of breaking the connection between obsessive thoughts and compulsions.