3 OCD Treatment Methods That Can Help You

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault

Published 06/23/2022

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a very stressful and disabling condition, but it doesn’t have to run your life. This article will learn what options are available to start managing your symptoms and keep OCD under control through these treatment options.

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Psychotherapy

Therapy is the most recommended strategy for beating OCD because it offers long-term solutions for individuals struggling with the disorder.

There isn’t just one type of therapy, though, and multiple can work for people with OCD.

Nonetheless, the different therapy types used for OCD are a variation of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

In general, CBT is effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions because it gets to the root of the problem by helping people identify and understand the negative thoughts and behaviors they are having, which affect how a person feels.

CBT's premise is that if these unhelpful thinking and behavioral patterns are changed, so can a person’s feelings and emotions.

For patients who have OCD, this usually involves eventually needing to face the source of their condition.

The primary technique used to help people with OCD is exposure and response prevention, or ERP.

ERP is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy method centered around exposing the patient to the things that create obsessive intrusive thoughts and make them distressed, having them commit to not performing the compulsions, or preventing a response which allows the obsessions and the disorder to be so persistent. [1]

For example, suppose an individual has contamination OCD and an intense fear of germs. In that case, they might be instructed to touch objects that are publicly used, such as doorknobs, countertops, shopping carts, etc.

Naturally, this will create anxiety for the patient if their immediate response is to wash their hands. Still, your therapist will gradually ask you to wait longer and longer before performing this compulsion until you reach the point you become less fearful at the thought of becoming contact with germs.

Your mind will habituate over time, especially when you realize that nothing bad happened because you didn’t immediately and repeatedly wash your hands. Eventually, you can become desensitized to the point where you have little to no intrusive thoughts about this issue. It will also teach how to stop avoiding your fears, which can make the disorder stronger.

However, the thoughts can potentially return at some point, but it will be up to you to use what you learned in therapy and not give in to the compulsions. If you don’t respond, the thought will simply pass, and you will be able to continue going about your day.

Of course, certain scenarios can’t be recreated, or people cannot be exposed to them, which is where imagined exposure becomes relevant.

Imagined exposure can be just as effective as real or in vivo exposure. People who participate in it can reduce their anxious thoughts if the therapist's scenarios are vivid and realistic enough to create distress. [2]

Just like in vivo exposure, people will become desensitized to the fears they are having, and it’s also a technique used to treat PTSD.

In some cases, imagined exposure could be used as a stepping stone to in-vivo exposure if the individual is not ready to directly face the source of their OCD just yet.

Nonetheless, the process won’t necessarily be easy, especially when first starting, and it can be one of the most challenging parts of treating OCD, but it can be done.

It will take time, commitment, and effort to address and overcome obsessive thoughts and compulsions. Still, it is possible to reduce anxiety to make your therapy easier and more manageable if your symptoms are incredibly intense and you struggle to progress through therapy.

Medication

Medication for OCD may be prescribed by doctors and psychiatrists to help people deal with some of the symptoms of OCD, and it’s typically used in conjunction with therapy to be the most effective.

While there is certainly a learned component to OCD, especially when it comes to compulsions, there are also biological causes to the disorder.

Like depression and anxiety disorders, research shows that OCD is another mental health disorder that can be influenced by a person’s serotonin levels.

If an individual doesn’t have enough of this neurotransmitter, it can cause communication between different parts of the brain, which can lead to a variety of symptoms. [2]

So, what is the best medicine for OCD to help deal with this?

OCD can be addressed by taking a medication known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It works by preventing the absorption of the neurotransmitter in other parts of the body, which increases the amount that can be used by the brain.

SSRIs are a type of antidepressant used in anxiety disorders and OCD, and just like these conditions, it can take several weeks to show noticeable benefits. It can come gradually as the serotonin levels become normal and balanced.

Because of this, it’s important to not take these on an “as-needed basis,” such as when you’re experiencing distress from an intrusive thought, and you have an urge to perform a compulsion.

Nonetheless, many different SSRIs can be prescribed as OCD medication, and while SSRIs are considered safe in general, it is still possible to experience side effects.

Suppose you have any concerns about SSRIs, such as these side-effects. In that case, a doctor or psychiatrist will be able to discuss what options are available to you and the safest dosage for you that’s effective but also minimizes the risk of side-effects.

If something is not working out for you, always consult with your doctor or psychiatrist about making any changes rather than discontinuing the medication abruptly or making alterations on your own.

By cooperating with the professional who prescribes you the medication, you can greatly improve your outcomes. If significant progress is shown with therapy, patients can gradually taper off the drugs and cope with therapy solely with the skills they’ve learned in therapy.

Support Groups

A well-structured support group can also be a valuable resource for those who have OCD. While it can have some similarities to individual therapy sessions, there is a different element entirely that you can’t get elsewhere.

This element connects to individuals who are struggling with OCD, just like you, and building a sense of community by allowing you to share your experiences.

Not everyone’s obsessions and compulsions will be the same, but understanding and relating to the core symptoms can provide a sense of relief for everyone involved.

The thoughts that individuals have can make people feel very alone and isolated; in fact, those who haven’t been diagnosed and don’t know that they have OCD might feel like they’re going insane and losing touch with reality.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, and when people can connect and share what they’re going through, it can reassure them that they are not alone, and things will be okay. Chances are, you can also gain useful advice from others who have undergone therapy and are managing their OCD, and this can encourage and inspire people to be persistent with their therapy.

Like medication, support groups are intended to supplement your therapy sessions, not replace them. Still, when looking at the benefit of support groups and what they have to bring to the table on their own, it can be invaluable and irreplaceable.

Finding a support group can be as easy as doing an online search in your local area and joining one; however, you don’t need to be limited to in-person sessions - online meetings or even writing on forums can still be very viable options for people who are looking to talk to others with OCD.

How To Get Help With OCD

Getting treatment for OCD will require a diagnosis from a mental health professional familiar with the signs of the disorder and can provide you with the help you need or refer you to someone who can.

For example, a psychiatrist will diagnose and prescribe you with medication but might not be able to provide you with therapy sessions, as this is something that not psychiatrists do, and instead will refer you to a licensed and professional psychotherapist who can.

Therefore, if you believe that you are experiencing symptoms, it is recommended that you make an appointment with someone who is experienced in helping people with mental health issues instead of visiting a general doctor.

If you are uncertain if you have OCD, you can also consider taking this free obsessive-compulsive disorder test to see if you have it. It’s not a substitute for an OCD diagnosis from a professional. Still, it can help you better understand what you’re dealing with, and it can prepare you for a formal diagnosis and treatment in the near future.

Conclusion

The symptoms of OCD and the grip that it can have over individuals can seem impossible to let loose, but with assistance, OCD is treatable. With the methods shown to you, you can learn how to control your symptoms, and the intrusive thoughts that cause them will eventually fade away with time and effort.

References

  1. Hezel, D. M., & Simpson, H. B. (2019). Exposure and response prevention for obsessive-compulsive disorder: A review and new directions. Indian journal of psychiatry, 61(Suppl 1), S85–S92. https://doi.org/10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_516_18
  2. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2020). Treatments for OCD. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/treatments-for-ocd
  3. International OCD Foundation. (2019, February 08). What Causes OCD? Retrieved from https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/what-causes-ocd/