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Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy

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KEY POINTS

  • Exposure and response prevention therapy helps your child deal with anxiety and fears by exposing your child to something that is upsetting and helping your child practice new ways of responding. Over time, your child is able to stay relaxed when exposed to something that used to be upsetting.
  • Trained mental health specialists provide this type of therapy. ERPT often takes 10 to 20 or more sessions to be effective.

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What is exposure and response prevention therapy?

Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERPT) is a treatment that helps change thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that cause distress and problems for your child. ERPT helps your child deal with anxiety and fears by exposing your child to something that is upsetting and helping your child practice new ways of responding. Your child learns ways to relax such as using breathing exercises. Over time, your child is able to stay relaxed when exposed to something that used to be upsetting.

When is it used?

ERPT can help with:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

What happens during a therapy session?

The therapist will ask you and your child questions to learn how often the problem happens, how severe the child’s reaction is, how long it lasts, and what seems to cause it. The therapist will work with your child to set goals and develop a treatment plan. If many different things cause your child distress, your child will start with those that are easier and gradually work up to those that are harder.

For example, with OCD, your child may wash his or her hands all the time because your child is afraid of being dirty. The ERP therapist might have your child imagine touching something dirty. Your child will learn new ways to control anxiety such as doing breathing exercises. Once your child feels relaxed thinking about something dirty, the therapist may have your child touch a dirty doorknob. Then the two of them might stand at the sink without washing hands until the anxiety goes away. Over time your child will do things that are a little harder, and they no longer cause anxiety and fear.

ERPT often takes 10 to 20 or more sessions to be effective.

How can I find a therapist?

Trained mental health specialists provide ERPT. Ask the therapist if they know ERPT when you make the first appointment. To find a therapist who specializes in working with children and teens, check with:

  • Your healthcare provider
  • Your clergy person, school teachers, or school counselors
  • Friends or family members who have been in therapy
  • Your health insurance company
  • Your employee assistance program (EAP) at work
  • Local mental health or human service agencies
  • Professional associations of psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-08-13
Last reviewed: 2018-03-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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