One of the most common questions I get is, “What are some good exposures for ___ OCD?” People really resonate with the subtypes of OCD, like contamination OCD, relationship OCD, etc. While subtypes exist to provide basic clinical information and to establish a sense of community for those who have this condition, identifying too strongly with the subtypes can lead to oversimplification of this disorder and its treatment.
The OCD subtypes may be the same, but the nuances will differ
Every single person’s OCD comes with a uniqueness and nuances that cannot be simply explained by subtype or theme. The fact of the matter is that two people could very much resonate with a term like relationship OCD, yet have completely different triggers, rituals, obsessions, and therefore, completely different sets of exposures, different styles of response prevention that will be needed, and therefore, a different treatment plan.
Let me give you some examples of what this looks like
Think of it this way: someone with relationship OCD could struggle with the nagging and ego-dystonic intrusive thought that their partner is not attractive enough. This person may engage in compulsions like checking photos, reassurance seeking, and avoidance in order to feel perfect, just right, or 100% certain about how attractive they find their partner.
Someone else may also resonate with the concept of relationship OCD but struggle in a completely different way. This person may struggle with intrusive doubts and obsessions about the integrity of the relationship itself, rather than the person. This person may struggle with obsessions like whether they spend quality time together, or whether they “fit” as a couple. Rituals in this situation may include comparing to other couples and rumination. One person may want to avoid their partner, whereas another person may want to compulsively spend more time with their partner in an effort to alleviate doubt.
Humans are complicated, and so are OCD subtypes
This is all to say that we, especially when OCD is involved, are way more complicated than these subtypes could ever demonstrate. We have to look beyond just the subtypes and ask ourselves, what is it that we’re fearful of? What is it that we avoid on a day to day basis? In what ways are my compulsions, mentally or physically, getting in the way of what it is that I want to do?
So, how should you approach exposures?
Instead of asking what good exposures are for contamination OCD, pedophilic OCD, hit and run OCD, or any other kind of OCD that resonates with you, think about your own individual triggers, the things you avoid, and the things you would do or not do if OCD and anxiety weren’t in the picture. Those are the exposures you should start with, they might be completely different from someone else with the same subtype as you.
Regardless of OCD subtypes, the approach exposures is similar
I wish there could be a complete book of exposures that are categorized and classified by subtypes. If that exists, or ever does exist, it might be superficially helpful in sparking some ideas. But at the end of the day, you will know yourself best. You know what you avoid, what scares you. Find small, manageable ways to do those things, while reducing safety behaviors and rituals. Your exposures will be far more meaningful and impactful than any superficially created list online could tell you.
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Keep on doing all the hard things.
I’m Jenna Overbaugh, a licensed therapist who’s been working with people who have OCD/anxiety since 2008. I am all about helping you get your life back so OCD and fear no longer keep you feeling so small. Follow along for tons of resources, guidance, and encouragement to do ALL THE HARD THINGS!
Website: www.jennaoverbaughlpc.com (free newsletter + workshops)
Disclaimer: Please note that the information/resources offered on this podcast is not, nor is it intended to be, therapy or a replacement for therapy. It does not constitute a client/therapist relationship. Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/jennaoverbaugh/support
In this episode, I talk about if you can actually do too much exposure work in your OCD/anxiety recovery. I also discuss..
- the impact of doing ”too much ERP”
- how to tell if you're doing too much ERP
- how to ensure you're doing ERP effectively, not compulsively
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Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/jennaoverbaugh/support
This blog post is intended for informational purposes only. This may not be the best fit for you and your situation. This post shall not be construed as mental health or medical advice. The information provided here is not intended to supplement or replace professional advice of your own. I.e. professional mental health, treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical or mental health professional before trying or implementing any information read here.
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