Anxiety and ED Treatment with Exposure Response Therapy

Article Contributed by Staff of The Meadows Ranch

Woman with Binge Eating DisorderAnxiety disorders are on the rise in America today, especially in young people. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5.9 percent of 13 to 18-year-olds have a “severe” anxiety disorder [1].

Approximately one in eight children suffer from an anxiety disorder, and if left untreated, these children will be at increased risk for eating disorders, substance abuse, poor school performance, and more [2].

These disorders are more common in girls than boys and take many forms: separation anxiety, extreme phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The causes of these disorders are many and varied; some are biological or genetic, while others are the result of life events.

Development of Anxiety Disorders

What’s more, the anxiety can shift direction as the child grows. As a very young girl, a child may suffer intense fear when separated from her mother.

As she grows older, her concerns may shift to germs and she may become very focused on hand-washing or worried about food contamination. She may begin practicing avoidant behavior when it comes to touching people or objects. Anxiety is also a commonly occurring issue for females struggling with eating disorders.

This same girl, when approaching adolescence, may redirect her anxiety toward her body and her weight, which can result in an eating disorder. The point is this: the predisposition toward anxiety issues are, for whatever reason, often part of an individual’s makeup and may always be; the target of the anxiety simply refocuses as a child gets older.

Anxiety disorders are very real diseases that, left unchecked, may worsen over time. Often an individual reaches a point where she is so crippled by the disorder that her quality of life is nonexistent. While anxiety is typically a normal experience of childhood, children who suffer from an anxiety disorder will experience intense fear, nervousness, and shyness, often avoiding certain places and activities. Fortunately, help is available in the form of Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP) therapy.

Understanding Exposure with Response Prevention Therapy

In this treatment, the person with Anxiety Disorder is systematically exposed to the object or event that is triggering the fear. For example, say the person is terrified of getting on an elevator; so much so, that even looking at an elevator makes her heart race and hands become clammy.

Girl sitting on gate dealing with anxiety disorders

The very idea of getting into the elevator and watching the door close is completely unacceptable. She feels about this elevator what others would feel about getting on the elevator if it were filled with scorpions.

In ERP therapy, the individual and therapist take the process by degrees, approaching the elevator slowly and over a period of time. The ultimate goal is for the patient to be able to ride the elevator alone without experiencing anxiety.

With ERP, she will learn the skills required to achieve this goal. In fact, ERP has been proven to be the most effective form of therapeutic treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is also a good therapeutic tool for treating an eating disorder.

ERP techniques are based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps an individual change their thinking patterns that may have prevented them from overcoming their fears. ERP is also helpful in guiding a person, whether adult or adolescent, toward desensitization of their fears.

Supporting an Adolescent Recovering From Anxiety Disorders

The important thing to remember is that with this type of treatment, the patient suffering from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder is shown how to effectively and successfully deal with her anxiety. This is a skill that will serve her well in her future.

Because the truth is, the anxiety will probably crop up again when life is particularly difficult or stressful. Early identification, intervention, and treatment for an anxiety disorder can also help in the prevention of co-occurring disorders, or the development of other mental illnesses that often develop alongside anxiety disorders.

If you have a child or know of an adolescent girl who is struggling with an eating disorder and co-occurring anxiety, please get help before it evolves into a crippling illness.

[1]: National Institute of Mental Health, “Any Anxiety Disorder Among Children”, Accessed 20 May 2017
[2]: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Children and Teens”, Accessed 20 May 2017

Article Contributed by Staff of The Meadows Ranch.

For over 25 years, The Meadows Ranch has offered an unparalleled depth of care through its unique, comprehensive, and individualized program for treating eating disorders and co-occurring conditions affecting adolescent girls and women. Set on scenic ranch property in the healing landscape of Wickenburg, Arizona, The Meadows Ranch allows for seamless transitions between its structured multi-phase treatment. A world-class clinical team of industry experts leads the treatment approach designed to uncover and understand the “whys” of the eating disorder through a host of proven modalities. Providing individuals with tools to re-engage in a healthy relationship with food – and with themselves – disempowers eating disorders and empowers individuals with a renewed enthusiasm for life. Contact us today at 888-496-5498 and find out why The Meadows Ranch is the best choice for eating disorder treatment and recovery. For more information call 1-888-496-5498. or visit

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Edited & Published on June 6, 2017
Recently Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 2, 2018

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