Therapeutic Process During Exposure: Habituation Model

J Obsessive Compuls Relat Disord. 2015 Jul 1;6:147-157. doi: 10.1016/j.jocrd.2015.01.006.


The current paper outlines the habituation model of exposure process, which is a behavioral model emphasizing use of individually tailored functional analysis during exposures. This is a model of therapeutic process rather than one meant to explain the mechanism of change underlying exposure-based treatments. Habitation, or a natural decrease in anxiety level in the absence of anxiety-reducing behavior, might be best understood as an intermediate treatment outcome that informs therapeutic process, rather than as a mechanism of change. The habituation model purports that three conditions are necessary for optimal benefit from exposures: 1) fear activation, 2) minimization of anxiety-reducing behaviors, and 3) habituation. We describe prescribed therapist and client behaviors as those that increase or maintain anxiety level during an exposure (and therefore, facilitate habituation), and proscribed therapist and client behaviors as those that decrease anxiety during an exposure (and therefore, impede habituation). We illustrate model-consistent behaviors in the case of Monica, as well as outline the existing research support and call for additional research to further test the tenets of the habituation model as described in this paper.