What is ERP Therapy?
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy is an exposure technique used to treat those who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
As a type of OCD, ERP therapy is also effective and applicable in managing scrupulosity.
What ERP does is expose OCD individuals to situations that cause fear.
Those who are afraid of germs are exposed to doorknobs, stair railing, elevator buttons, or any objects that are touched by different persons on a normal basis.
For those who despise heights, riding high escalators, airplanes or even cable cars frequently can help them control the fear in the long run.
And for those who are afraid to sin, the scrupulous, letting intrusive thoughts run into your brain more will eventually change your response to it.
As scrupulous myself, along with Spiritual direction, ERP Therapy, immensely helps me manage my compulsions. Spiritual Direction is like the theory, while ERP is the application. I noticed that the advice coming from my Spiritual Director was of no use until I exerted big effort to face my fears. That is how the healing starts.
Fear of sin is very broad and confusing if we look at it in the eyes of scrupulous individuals. It is more than just going to confession multiple times. It includes how the brain reacts when it encounters triggers. The confession is just a small part of it.
My religious OCD started when I took a vow of accepting the Eucharist every Sunday for a year. I knew that once I commit, I take it seriously no matter what! Thinking this would just be like the other promise I made in previous years. I managed them all well, so I confidently accepted the challenge in a heartbeat.
Here comes a new year, 2019. On Sundays of the first half of the year, I seamlessly received the Communion. It was in another half when I began to struggle. I became careful of my actions, too much that I was aiming for a perfect Communion.
The first sign of scrupulosity I had was when I felt I was not forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation because I was not that sincere or I thought I forgot something to divulge to the priest. I would return. I was doubtful. And this led me to other signs.
The moment between after my confession and Sunday Mass was the hardest! During this time, another sign showed up. Blasphemous and dirty thoughts which I later figured out were intrusive thoughts started to disturb me. These made my scrupulosity worst for I was not only having them after my confession but also while praying, in my devotions, even at Mass.
As doubts and intrusive thoughts attacked me, my time in confession multiplied. Before each Sunday, I always made sure, that I already had a list of my sins in my head and that I confessed all of them before the Sunday Holy Mass. If ever I had disturbing thoughts and begin to doubt whether I sinned or not, I 100% assumed I sinned. Early in the morning, before attending Mass, I would ask our Parish if there is an available priest for confession, if there’s none, I would go to the other parish making sure, I would receive Him, guiltless.
My daily life became tedious, weighing if my actions would be sinful. I realized that it is hard to convince a scrupulous mind. That, despite critical judgment before doing an act, the brain would tag it as a transgression after doing so. And for it to be sinless, not doing it is the only option.
RELATED– Prayer Journal for Scrupulous that can help in tracking and overcoming compulsion.
Example of ERP Therapy
Ever since I was younger, I have had a tendency to be obsessed with certain things. But this was something I outgrew easily. I eventually got over them. Little did I know, that during those times, I was doing Exposure and Response Prevention unconsciously.
I can still remember, how someone died because of firecracker poisoning after eating spaghetti exposed outside. It scared me so much. I never ate outside for a long time thinking I might get poisoned too. Through time, I overcame this fear. With regular family gatherings which required eating outside, I eradicated the fear. And this is what ERP is all about. Exposure to feared things. Without knowing it, I recovered.
How to use ERP for Scrupulosity
Just like any other obsessions and compulsions, ERP can help people with scrupulosity. Exposing individuals to possible sins could change their reactions through time. I listed down below some of my OCD scenarios and how I controlled them through the Exposure and Response and Prevention Technique.
Scenario 1: Doubting if I should confess again the forgotten sin.
ERP Technique: Consider it as forgiven. According to my confessor, if you forgot to confess a particular sin, you can still receive communion as long as you did not deliberately hide it. If you have an urge to confess it, stay away from the confession box. Just leave.
Scenario 2: Praying with intrusive thoughts. This could happen a lot of times, while at Mass, reciting the Rosary, or praying any devotions.
ERP Technique: Ignore these thoughts and continue praying. Even just once! I know at first, it may cause distress. But that one time could help you in the future.
Scenario 3: Doubting if an action to take is sinful or not.
ERP Technique: Do it! If you are unsure, do it. This is the hardest but just like when praying with intrusive thoughts, when you do it even just once, it becomes easy.
Note: I know it is easier said than done, but I myself was hardcore scrupulous and I managed to control it for less than a year. I am not saying I totally removed my compulsions (OCD is chronic, you cannot fully eliminate it), but I can say, I am better now than before. And I know, at the right moment, you will recover too.
Having a religious OCD is mentally draining. It discourages you, it depresses you. But know, that with the right technique, you can control it. Exposure and Response Prevention is really helpful but, I suggest correlating it with spiritual direction for the best result. Recovering from scrupulosity may take time, but with patience and perseverance, you can definitely do it!
If you are in the process of finding a spiritual director. Here’s a quick guide.
For more resources on scrupulosity, you can check this.
St. Dymphna, Patron Saint of those who are suffering from mental disorders, pray for us.