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Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy

What is exposure and response prevention therapy?

Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERPT) is a way to change behaviors that are caused by feelings. ERPT helps your child deal with his feelings by exposing him to something that upsets him and practicing new ways of responding. Your child learns ways to relax, such as breathing exercises. Over time, your child is able to stay relaxed when he is exposed to something that used to upset him.

When is it used?

ERPT can help with:

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

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. For example, if your child has OCD, he may wash his hands all the time because he is afraid of being dirty. The ERP therapist might have the child touch something dirty such as a doorknob. Then the two of them might stand at the sink without washing hands until the anxiety goes away. Your child learns new ways to control his anxiety, like doing breathing exercises.

ERPT often takes 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 clergyman, 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 RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-04-17
Last reviewed: 2014-04-03
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.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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