2018 Jenike Young Investigator Award

Neural mechanisms of avoidance in exposure and response prevention for OCD

Martha Falkenstein, PhD

McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School (Belmont, MA)

Award Amount: $39,766

Many patients with OCD who successfully complete ERP treatment experience life-changing improvements in their OCD symptoms. However, as many as 40-50% of patients do not experience a significant recovery.

Dr. Falkenstein and her team will concentrate on enhancing treatment outcomes for this group, with a specific focus on addressing the avoidance behaviors that are common among people with OCD. This study will involve approximately 50 participants receiving ERP for OCD at McLean Hospital’s OCD Institute, with a subset of these participants receiving “approach-avoidance training” in addition to ERP. In this training, participants will use a smartphone app which simulates “pulling” images associated with their OCD triggers toward them, and “pushing” neutral images away from them, with the goal of teaching them to automatically approach – rather than avoid – feared situations and experiences. In previous research, a similar training was shown to have an effect after just one 15-minute session. This study will investigate whether ERP treatment outcomes can be improved and enhanced with the addition of this approach-avoidance training.