All the OCD experts tell us that if we want to beat our OCD then we need to undergo exposure response prevention therapy (ERP). In this therapy we are expected to exposure ourselves to that which triggers our OCD and then resist doing our compulsions. If, for example, our OCD fear is centered on germs and the havoc they cause, then we should touch things, like garbage cans, and then refrain from washing our hands, the compulsion we normally use to make the fear go away. Then, we are expected to do our exposures repeatedly until the OCD fear goes away or at least, gets better by half.
What no one tells us about ERP, however, is how hard it is. It sounds deceptively easy when we first hear about it, but when we actually attempt it, we find ourselves facing a brick wall. When I first read about ERP and its success rate, I knew that it was what Ray and I needed to do. It made sense to me. The idea was simple. Stand up to the very things that you fear and eventually, the fear goes away. If you hate spiders, for example, then maybe if you hang out with them, you will finally understand how harmless they really are. But, when someone is as scared as Ray was with his OCD, the very idea of facing their fears feels impossible. At his worst, I couldn’t even get his attention long enough to explain the rudimentary elements of ERP, let alone convince him to try it.
What I finally realized was that I needed a strong motivator for Ray. Simply telling him that ERP was what the experts recommended, that it would help him with his OCD, or that his life would return to normal if he did ERP did not help at all. He couldn’t absorb any of these reasons; his OCD was too loud. I needed to use something that was as loud and as large as his OCD.
Finally, it occurred to me. I would pay him and pay him well. Why not? We all need motivation to move forward in life. How many of us would do our jobs if we weren’t paid to show up? I know that many parents and therapists would hesitate to use money as a motivator for doing therapy. After all, shouldn’t I have convinced Ray to do ERP because it was good for him, like doing his homework or brushing his teeth? Shouldn’t I, as his parent, been able to discipline him enough so that he would do the ERP? Maybe others would have been more successful than me in convincing Ray to do ERP without resorting to bribery.
What I know now, after all this time and experience, is that using money to get Ray to do the ERP worked and worked well. It was strong enough to coax him into trying the ERP and to keep him going when it got hard. Looking back, I have no regrets paying Ray to do ERP. He is now well, virtually OCD free and going forward in life faster than most of his peers.
And, I would do it again. If OCD ever shows up again, I wouldn’t hesitate to whip out my checkbook and strike its ugly head.