Areas of Expertise
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most widely used and evidence-based treatment for anxiety disorders. With CBT, we examine the powerful effect that thoughts have on our feelings about ourselves, the world around us, as well as on our actions. We learn how to call out negative patterns that tend to increase feelings of anxiety, dread, guilt, shame, panic, anger, or despair. In the practice of doing so, we recognize thoughts for what they are - just thoughts. We then have more agency in how we respond to them and we can establish some new, more helpful ones. Our work with CBT is targeted to naming negative thinking patterns or “distortions” and developing more rational, gentle, and helpful frameworks of thinking.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is the empowering and effective work of facing our fears. It is the gold standard treatment for OCD and other anxiety disorders. The “exposure” element refers to exposing ourselves gradually and systematically to what the fear tells us we can’t do or face. Little by little, the more we face that fear, the more we “habituate” to it, AKA get used to it. Through this practice, we gain the lived experience that we can tolerate so much more than the fear tells us we can’t. The other part of the ERP equation is Response Prevention. When a person has an intrusive, unwanted thought, feeling, image, or sensation, they instinctively do things to get rid of it. They might avoid triggers, check a lock or wash their hands again and again, search the internet for answers, get reassurance from others, or spend hours reviewing their memories. These are examples of compulsions that OCD sufferers do to get relief from their obsessions. The only problem is that compulsions don’t work, and OCD never gets the resolution it’s looking for. Before we know it, we find ourselves trapped in an endless cycle of compulsions that end up only making the fears worse and our lives smaller. In order to break the cycle, we have to pair the exposures with response prevention (preventing the compulsive responses the OCD wants us to do). In treatment, we create a systematic plan to cut out compulsions over time and win back our lives.
Mindfulness & ACT
Through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, we teach individuals to slow down and open up to their emotional experiences, rather than pushing them away. They paradoxically have less power over us when we do so. ACT is grounded in mindfulness, “the practice of paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, to the present moment, as if your life depended on it.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn. Through tools of mindfulness, people gain the power to manage painful thoughts and feelings in new ways, and develop a greater connection to the “what is” rather than the “what if.” ACT also involves a deep exploration of an individual’s personal values - what’s important to them in life and what their motivation is for not letting fears take them away from that. If you know what your values are, you have a compass with which to more flexibly navigate the challenges of life.
Santa Monica OCD and Anxiety Center utilizes the most evidence-based treatment modalities for treatment of BFRBs including structured awareness training, mindfulness skills, cognitive therapy, and habit reversal training (HRT). In treatment, sufferers learn to closely examine the environmental, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral elements of their BFRB and then implement targeted interventions at each level. Discovery of soothing strategies to replace the BFRB and meet one’s sensory needs in new ways can be rewarding and exciting for the BFRB sufferer. Part of the work that we do with individuals involves developing new ways of communicating with oneself about one’s BFRB - from a voice of judgment to one of deeper acceptance and kindness.