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Jackie Lea SommersI am pleased to introduce you to our newest guest blogger, Jackie Lea Sommers.  You may remember Jackie from OCD Awareness Week in 2012, when she won our creative expression award for her short story, Tipping Point.  In today’s blog, Jackie writes about her personal experience of conquering her demons through cognitive behavioral therapy. Jackie lives in Minneapolis and also blogs about OCD and creativity her own website at www.jackieleasommers.com. – CB

You’d be shocked to hear just how similar my Minnesota hometown was to Mayberry, that sweet fictional town of Andy Griffith Show fame.  We didn’t lock our homes or cars, everyone knew everyone else, and the whole town showed up each Friday night for high school football.  My parents were and are the funniest, most generous people I know, and I grew up on a hobby farm just outside of town.  I should have been the happiest girl on planet earth.

But I wasn’t.  I had undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it stole joy from my would-be charming life like the worst kind of bandit—one without a name.

After 20 years of suffering, countless hours of talk therapy, loads of failed prescriptions (and their accompanying side effects), and one utterly exhausted psychiatrist, I was referred to an OCD specialist in the Twin Cities who broached the topic of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with me.

He didn’t mince words: “It will be hell,” he said.

But I knew I was ready for it: the daily hell of living with my OCD had become so much for me that I was willing to endure a short-term dose that had a glimmer of hope on the other side.

In the two years since I began the Lights All Around blog, the number one thing that I’m asked about by blog readers is my experience with cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Readers want to know what they can expect, so I’ve recorded my experience to give people a glimpse into the world of CBT.  It is my absolute pleasure to share about CBT, that alarming and magnificent tool that gave me freedom for the first time since I was a child.

CBT is the preferred method of treatment for OCD; specifically, the type of CBT used is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).  Long name, but actually, it is exactly what it says! The patient is exposed to something that triggers an obsession and then the response (the compulsion) is prevented.  This therapy actually re-wires the brain—the brain physically changes in this therapy—and it helps an obsessive-compulsive to live with uncertainty.

The first couple weeks with my new therapist were mostly intake.  My therapist asked lots of questions to help assess what my obsessions and compulsions were, and what triggered the obsessions.  He was basically probing to find what buttons to push later: “How much would that stress you out if you couldn’t do XYZ after ABC happened?”  I knew it would all come back to “haunt” me, but I was all in.  This honestly felt like my last hope for a normal, happy life.

I took the YBOCS (Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale) test, a test used by therapists to help diagnose OCD, and determine a treatment plan, and found out that I was a moderate case, which surprised me.  But then again, there are some people who can’t leave their homes, can’t touch a loved one, people who wash their hands with Brillo pads and bleach.

My therapist outlined the measurable goals of my initial treatment plan: a fifty-percent reduction in distress when focused on upsetting stimuli and six consecutive weeks of no avoidance or rituals.  The next few months of therapy were starting to sound like a long, long time.

Since my obsessions were primarily religious-based (most often tied to blasphemy and a fear of hell and condemnation, a type of OCD sometimes called scrupulosity), my exposures needed to be imaginative (since, obviously, there was no way to literally expose me to hell).  So my therapist began to write a story, and my homework was to finish it.  It was the story of the worst day I could possibly imagine—pretty rough indeed as I ended up literally in hell in my version of the story!

My therapist recorded my story (along with his own additions to it) digitally, and I was sent home with an 18-minute recording from the pit of hell.  My job was to listen to it four times a day—two times through, twice a day—every day and record my anxiety levels when prompted. And I needed to do this consistently until my anxiety levels reduced by 50% from what I’d recorded on the initial exposure.  Oh, and I couldn’t perform my compulsions (repetitive prayer and seeking reassurance) to make myself feel better.

It. Was. Awful.

I won’t lie to you, listening to that recording—that exposure—was like torture.  It was being triggered left and right and not being allowed to do anything to ease my anxiety.

I hated it.  It made me sick to my stomach, made my heart race, made me terrified.  I tried to listen to the recording right away in the morning, in order to get half of my required exposures out of the way early in the day, but eventually, I couldn’t do it that way anymore—the weight of beginning my morning in such misery made it hard to get out of bed, and I had to push it all back later in the day just so that I wouldn’t dread waking up.

It felt like needless torture, and I honestly wanted to quit at about week 8 or 9 when my anxiety levels weren’t dropping.  I was frustrated with my therapist and was certain that I couldn’t accomplish all that he wanted. It was when I was at this lowest point, and felt like I couldn’t go on, that my therapist introduced me to a tool to side-step my way into the exposure.  Instead of thinking the blasphemous thoughts directly, he suggested that I think, “My OCD wants me to think X.”  It was just the tool I needed.

Within a week of implementing this side-step, things just clicked.  One day I was listening to the recording—this device of torture and grief—and instead of feeling terror, I thought, This is so annoying.  And then I smiled and thought, FINALLY.

This, of course, is just a brief description of my experience.  I could tell you so many more things—about how hard it was, about what other exposures look like for other types of OCD, about the tools my therapist gave me for success.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do—but not as hard as living for 20 OCD-riddled years without help.  I hated to go through ERP, but I love that I have gone through it.  It rescued me and that period of ERP is a defining period of my life.  Now, four years later, I can only wish I’d experienced it earlier.

Readers, tell us what your first experience with ERP was like? Did you have a defining moment where things “clicked” for you?


    • Why, thanks, Alison! I loved your “Listening to My Gut” post and am linking to it in one of my soon-to-be-shared posts!

      If you’re ever in the Minneapolis area, give me a holler!

      • Alison Dotson

        Thanks! I’ll be in touch soon because it would be great to collaborate somehow.

        I live in Minneapolis! Consider this my holler.

      • Andrew

        please help how do i do erp

        • Carly Bourne

          HI Andrew-

          ERP is a type of therapy that is done with a therapist trained to treat OCD. You can learn more about what ERP is on our website here:https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/

          We have a Resource Directory you can search by zip code to find a therapist near you who knows how to do ERP therapy. Just go to https://iocdf.org/find-help/ and enter your info.

          If you have other questions or need more help finding treatment, you can also contact our office directly by calling 617-973-5801 or emailing info@iocdf.org.

    • Alison

      Alison -you give me hope. I just started ERP for my Harm OCD and it has been HELL! I almost checked myself into the hospital because I was so scared!

      Thank you for this story. I hope one day I can be a guest writer on here when I have overcome my OCD!

    • Ari

      Im in the exposure portion of CBT and I was looking this up because I feel like Im dying, and wanted to know if anyone else felt like they are going crazy. I havent been able to go to work or leave the house for anything really. Except when I freaked out and thought my husband was going to hurt me. I ran out of the house without my coat and drove away. After that night (1 and a 1/2 weeks ago) i haven’t exposed myself again. I was worried I would end up in the hosipital, or worse. Im in this therapy for physical and sexual abuse that happened over an extended period of time about 10 years ago. I was thinking this wasn’t for me, as Ive now basically regressed. I can’t sleep or eat on top of it all, and my body is in constant pain and Im exhuasted. I guess my question is, when you said it was hell, is this what you meant? And if so, how were yiu confident that you weren’t going to finally go to far and kill yourself or harm someone else? Since that’s why I stopped, and Im afraid to start again.

  • CBT/ERP: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The worst definitely came first. It was absolutely horrible, BUT I got my life (well most of it) back! My only regret was that I waited so long (13 years) to do it.

    Great post, Jackie! So proud of you!

    • And I am so proud of YOU, Sunny!! Love your blog and all your lovely influence on the OCD community!

  • Alison Dotson

    Reblogged this on Being Me with OCD and commented:
    Jackie had the courage to do something I never went through myself–intense therapy for her OCD symptoms. By the time I found an OCD specialist I had already been taking medication for a while and felt better. The therapist I spoke to said exposure and response therapy (ERP) could actually make me feel worse.

    Read about her experience with ERP–her story is so inspiring!

  • […]  I am so honored to be an official contributor to the IOCDF blog.  My first post can be read here; it tells the story of my excruciating but ultimately liberating experience with Exposure and […]

    • Thank you so much, Janet. I am so appreciative of all your support and all you do for the OCD community!

  • Amy

    Interesting post, 20 years must have been awful. I am in the midst of ERP, its definitely hard, but better then living with OCD. I am so happy I found a therapist to finally help me!

    • Amy, you hit the nail on the head there: ERP is definitely hard BUT NOT HARDER THAN LIVING DAILY WITH OCD. Love the way you put that! Keep up the great work with ERP!

  • Justin A.

    As a sufferer of Homosexual obsessions, I suppose it really “clicked” for me when I was able to shake a man’s hand. This was a pretty big step in my treatment considering that I had, at one point, been entirely unable to look at men.

    • Justin, good for you for tackling such a difficult exposure! I am continually amazed by the OCD community and the risks people take in spite of great fear!

  • Have to hand it to you, that was a great story. I think it is very inspirational. It is great how you are getting across to fellow people who struggle with OCD. When i was reading this i kept thinking how similar your ERP therapy was very similar to mine, although i had variating obsessions and compulsions from yours, my events seemed to play thru like yours. ERP was a main part of conquering my OCD. Again, great article and its awesome how you are helping people with OCD.

    • Thanks, Torts! I appreciate your kind comment and I’m so pleased and proud that you tackled ERP yourself!

  • haley

    Your post gave me so much hope, I know ERP won’t be a walk in the park, but I’m determined to succeed and find the right therapist, which was a thing I am so scared to do but I will because I can’t live like this. I’m happy that you overcame it and I hope one day, soon, that will be me too 🙂

    • Amy

      Find a therapist that’s trained in ERP, and you will get better! I went inpatient, years of therapy, and was so hopeless. Now, I have an awesome therapist and I have my life back. It’s still not easy, but better then not knowing how to deal with the OCD. If you live in northern New Jersey, I have a great therapist!

      • Eileen

        Hi Amy- can you give me the name of your therapist in NJ. Need an ERP therapist desperately.

        • Carly Bourne

          Hi Eileen-

          If you are looking for an ERP therapist near you, the best place to look is our Resource Directory, which is searchable by zip code or address: https://iocdf.org/find-help

      • Ric Norman

        Hi Amy,
        Great article & comments!
        Please tell me of the Great ERP Therapist in Northern new Jersey.

  • Manjunath

    Jackie, just felt like i was reading my own story. touched!

  • Melissa

    Hi, I have OCD and finally after 7 years figured out that I haven’t been doing the right therapy. I live in the twin cities. Is there seine specifically that you can suggest for ERP?

  • Dolores

    Your blog is giving me a glimmer of hope. My husband is suffering from OCD and we have been seeking help from a psychologist as well as a psychiatrist. The results have not been too good. We have given up on the psychologist and now I am beginning to doubt our psychiatrist. We really didn’t know where to turn and we just pick names out of our provider list thru our insurance. (Trying to find an OCD specialist that takes your insurance isn’t easy.) My husband has been put through the mill taking and trying all of these meds that I am so reluctant about. His Dr.has prescribed Prozac to take along with Geodon to help him with his fear of losing things. She also has him taking Xanax to help him anytime he feels overly anxious. The results from taking all these drugs have only made him feel worse…more anxiety, restlessness, cold sweats, panic attacks. and even lethargic. I am beginning to doubt that this is the right way to go. Right now his Dr.has decided to get him off of the Geodon because it is not doing what she thought it would. He is reducing his intake of the drug daily, but the the withdrawal effects for him are horrible. He breaks out in a cold sweat and can not sit still. In addition, she has suggested that he think about seeking further help in an outpatient clinic. (meaning more drugs with closer monitoring) Being that you once took meds to help you in the past, I was wondering if you are still on them to cope or if you have finally managed to control your OCD with just CBT and ERT? Also if you are no longer on meds, was your withdrawal from them a difficult experience for you as well??
    I have found some OCD specialists that do CBT and ERT from this website and would like my husband to seek help from them rather than stay on the path he is on now even if our insurance does not cover it. His condition has taken control of his life and everyday is torture for him. Any information you can give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for your blog!

    • Hi Dolores,

      Thanks for your comment! I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s debilitating struggle with OCD– I can definitely understand it.

      I continue to take medication (and may for the rest of my life)– but medication is not necessarily the answer for everyone. If I had to choose between having done ERP and taking medication, ERP wins hands-down. It is the BEST treatment out there!!! It is also the hardest. But still the best. 🙂

      I wish you all the best in your continued search for freedom for your husband. He is lucky to have your help! Blessings on you both!

    • Hi Dolores and Jackie, I hope you don’t mind me chiming in but Dolores, your husband’s story is remarkably similar to my son Dan’s. He was on many different meds at various times, and they only seemed to make things worse for him. I found a psychiatrist who helped us wean him off everything. The one he had the hardest time weaning from was Effexor. Getting him off the meds was the best decision we ever made. His OCD was severe but intensive ERP therapy saved his life and he is now a college graduate doing great (OCD classified as mild). Still medication free, almost five years later. I know ERP therapy is not often covered by insurance but honestly, I can’t think of anything better to spend money on. I wish you all the best and you can check out my blog if you think it might be helpful.

  • Barb

    Has anyone tried ERP for depression and/or anxiety, with success? Thanks.

    • CBT/ERP was what gave me my life back from OCD (which is an anxiety disorder). I also struggle with depression too. I’m not cured, by any means, but I’m living a life that is much more closely to what I want. Best of luck to you!

      • Barb

        Thanks for your reply.

  • Thanks Jackie–my 11-year-old and I are doing her exposures today; we are just getting started with the issue of hell, and WE REALLY APPRECIATED you sharing. Thank you so much!! We will keep you in our prayers too. If you have any other suggestions or are willing to share your exposures or OCD stories (particularly about hell), perhaps you could email me? Thanks!!

  • Thanks. I have actually….I was wondering if you had the actual story about hell–we are doing the same imaginal, and I wanted my daughter to understand others did the same type of thing, and then also give a her a head start. Her therapist is not super instructive on the details. Thanks.

  • My son is truly suffering from scrupulosity. We’re in Saint Paul, MN. I’ll check on therapists for ERP but if you email me the therapist you went to, it would help. As you probably know, it helps if I can point to a concrete example (your story on the web) and if I say “It helped this person” I might get *some* traction. My 27-year-old son thinks he’s the only person ever who suffered from scrupulosity and I’m thinking it’s all a part of the OC atmosphere. We had previously thought it was panic disorder/anxiety disorder.

  • SheyoniaAndesron

    Thank you Jackie! I am in treatment right now :]

  • Danielle Dykstra

    Hello Jackie,

    Thank you for blogging and for being so transparent in the struggles and realities of your life’s hardships. Your honesty is so treasured. One of the many things that stuck out to me in your post was when you were sharing about the OCD specialist. You said that you were ready to face the hell he warned you about. I was able to really picture the weight of your circumstance as I read the section that stated that you knew you were ready for this hell he spoke of. Just slightly imagining the daily hell you spoke of seems so real and tangible. The part that sprung up such anticipation of desire for you to find the help you needed came as I read the part where you said that your OCD had become so much for you to handle that you were just willing to endure a short-term dose that had a glimmer of hope on the other side.
    It’s interesting to think about the fact that you knew that what you said was going to come back to haunt you, however you knew this was the best option for you to be released. I am trying to put myself in the place of facing my worst nightmare day in and day out. I cannot fathom the challenge of this journey. After having gone through these experiences, I am curious to know if you are able to pray for the sake of praying now that you have come clean of your OCD. I also wonder, do you still have a faith, and what did that look like for you to let go of your faith in order to get rid of the voices. In a way, this beautiful story of finding hope and redemption makes me wonder if you ever feel like your specialist was someone that God used to give you the truth and the connections you were in need of. Thank you again for sharing.

    • Danielle, I am not sure if I posted my comment as a reply to yours or not … so if it’s not, just scroll down! 🙂

  • Hi Danielle, thanks for your very thoughtful comment!

    I went through ERP therapy for 12 weeks in 2008; now, nearly a decade later, it is STILL well-maintained based on those 12 weeks of ERP, and my faith is stronger and more vibrant than ever. I have a lot of posts about my before, during, and after experiences with OCD and ERP at http://www.jackieleasommers.com, if you’d like to read more.

    Here is one post:

    I received these fantastic questions from a blog reader:

    How has your faith grown since ERP? Have you found new ways to talk and relate to God now that you free from its influence?


    Everything is different now.

    I believe that my prayers are heard, that there is no glass ceiling over my head, preventing them from reaching God’s ear.

    I walk in the lightness of freedom and not with the yoke of legalism.

    I can picture Christ delighting in me and my work.

    My new normal is feeling loved and accepted, redeemed and rescued.

    I am anchored.

    I can think about other worldviews without being triggered into a total meltdown.

    My faith feels less about feelings and more about choice: I choose Christ and, better yet, he has chosen me.

    Prayer feels more like a two-way conversation than just one-way pleading.

    I experience God’s sense of humor more.

    I am well tended.

    Was there something beautiful about the desperate days when I would weep with savage desire for Christ? I suppose so. But I am so pleased to have a gentle, fun, peaceful, deep, and safe relationship with him now. I am discovering the real Jesus, not an OCD-twisted version of him.

    I couldn’t be more grateful.

    So, just what is this ERP therapy that subdued my OCD and allowed me the spiritual life I so desperately wanted? Learn more at jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

    • Danielle Dykstra


      My heart leaps and abounds with joy to see that your faith in Christ was not stolen from you in the process of finding freedom. I imagine there are days you just want to ” Shout from the rooftops” about your freedom and the joy that has been made complete in you through ERP and God’s good goodness.I love hoe you said that your faith is stronger and more vibrant than ever. It’s so encouraging that you are able to see Jesus in the light of who he is without filters and without twisted ideas of how he views you and responds to your needs. You also shard, saying that “My new normal is feeling loved and accepted, redeemed and rescued.” I cannot help but rejoice in hearing about the liberation you have experienced in Christ. May Christ’s influence through you continue to open hearts and minds and reach souls that are lost and looking for help. Continue on in this beautiful journey, thank you again for your response!

  • Danae

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I have OCD around blasphemy and sin and going to hell. It’s terrifying. I ended up in the hospital because I tried to hurt myself so many times and wasn’t safe at home. My journey has literally been hell and I honestly thought I was the only one who had ever experienced something like this. It is so encouraging to read about someone else with scrupulocity. I wish we could sit down to coffee. ?


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