With ERP, do you expose yourself to the situation or the thought?

Exposure is a component of ERP. I place a bigger emphasis on the Response Prevention.

You’re going to expose yourself to whatever triggers the compulsion that you’re eliminating. Instead of responding with that compulsion, you’ll practice accepting the thoughts or feelings you experience and then continue on with doing something healthy that aligns with your values. That could be a process that happens entirely in your head or it may involve places and things outside of your head.

Here’s an example: Somebody doing ERP to eliminate compulsions related to door locks will expose themselves to the situation of leaving the house and they won’t respond to the anxiety or any intrusive thoughts with a compulsion like checking the door lock. So they expose themselves in a situation where they’ll have the opportunity to not engage in the compulsion. Then, after they leave the house, they might be sitting in a meeting at work when the thought pops into their head that they didn’t lock the door. Now they’re exposed to a thought, not the actual door, but reacting to that thought by trying to remember if they locked the door, would still be a compulsion. So they would also prevent that response and just accept that the door might be locked or it might not be locked. They’re not going to try to mentally reassure themselves that they did lock it. And that entire ERP practice would happen while sitting in a meeting at work, choosing not to engage in mental compulsions.

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