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A MESSAGE OF HOPE FOR YOU: You Will Overcome OCD

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Every therapist says they treat anxiety.  Every therapist says (and believes) they use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  In fact very few do.  There is only one therapy that eliminates anxiety disorders.  It's called Exposure Therapy.

What is exposure therapy?  Exposure is the only therapy that is endorsed by all national anxiety organizations, whether it is OCD, social anxiety, agoraphobia, panic disorder, PTSD, and phobias.  If a therapist does not use exposure as their main technique, they will not help you.  It is not sufficient if they say they use CBT.  CBT is a very general term that includes dozens of techniques, including many that are not helpful to anxiety and some which will make it worse.  Exposure is a special CBT technique specifically for anxiety disorders.

Moreover, you've been doing exposure your whole life and successfully overcome hundreds of fears.  It's normal to be nervous or fearful in a new situation--the first day at a new school or job, the first time you met your significant other, the first time you did a new activity.  Yet you overcame your initial fears by continuing to do the uncomfortable activity; that's exposure!  Some have even become sources of great joy---a new sport or career, a happy marriage, etc.  

Exposure is the natural way people overcome fear of anything.  Even the most primitive animal organisms eventually habituate to uncomfortable stimuli through exposure.  We all know people who have phobias--flying, dogs, darkness, tall buildings.  (I have a phobia of mice!)  We know that people overcome these common fears just by gradually getting closer to and spending more time in those feared situations in small baby steps. But those baby steps eventually add up to a dramatic difference.  OCD, social anxiety, and panic are no different from these phobias, except it's harder to avoid thoughts, people, and travel.  But it's the same thing and is equally treatable.

In fact, it is physiologically impossible to remain fearful of anything with continued exposure to it.  Think of firefighters, police, soldiers, doctors, and pilots.  They weren't born fearless; they slowly became that way by exposure to successive approximations of their occupations.  Sadly, this is true even of people in war torn countries.  We are dumbfounded watching people go to work, school, hairdressers, and weddings while bullets fly over their heads.  They've been exposed enough times to become desensitized to it.

By contrast, we know the more we avoid uncomfortable things, the more we become fearful of them.  In fact, we could make you afraid of something simply by telling you to avoid it, even if you never actually encountered it.  Isn't it surprising how fearful people can be of others who are different from ourselves or who live in other countries, despite never even meeting them?  That's because they grew up being told to avoid certain types of people.  Yet when we are exposed to them long enough, we become more comfortable around them.  In fact people can be quite comfortable with even negative people and negative situations, for better or worse, simply through exposure and familiarity.  As long as they know what they are getting themselves into, good or bad, they're comfortable.

We cross the street every day without thinking we could be hit by a car.  Does that guarantee we can't be a fatality?  Of course not.  Accidents happen all the time.  We've learned to live with these everyday risks not because we've been reassured, but because we simply are habituated to it.  The good news is that if you've overcome fears of these everyday situations--learning to ride a bicycle, learning to swim, etc.--then you WILL also overcome the anxiety that has put your life on hold.  You, and millions of people going through the same thing, can be hopeful of overcoming this problem once and for all!