How to Receive Effective OCD Treatment

A therapist takes notes as she listens to another woman on a couch

Although obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a serious mental illness associated with high levels of disability, there are a number of OCD treatments that will significantly reduce OCD symptoms. Luckily, help is available — in a variety of forms.

It’s normal to go back and double-check that the hair straightener is unplugged or your car is locked — on occasion. But if you suffer from OCD, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors become so consuming they interfere with your daily life. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to shake them from your mind.

What to Consider Before Starting OCD Treatment

Treatment may not result in a cure, but it can help bring symptoms under control so that they don’t rule your daily life. Here are four things to consider before starting your OCD treatment journey.

1. Keep an eye on side effects

All psychiatric medications have potential side effects. Talk to your doctor about possible side effects and about any health monitoring needed while taking psychiatric drugs. And let your doctor know if you experience troubling side effects.

2. Understand where OCD comes from

Although OCD has been found to be associated with certain infections, injuries, and brain problems in some people, it is much more commonly thought to be the result of the complex relationship between genetic or biological vulnerability and life stress.

3. Consider ERP

The gold standard, evidence-based treatment for OCD is called exposure response prevention (ERP). The “exposure” in ERP refers to exposing yourself to the thoughts, images, objects, and situations that make you anxious and start your obsessions. On the other hand, the “response prevention” part of ERP, refers to making a choice not to do a compulsive behavior once the anxiety or obsessions have been “triggered.” All of this is done under the guidance of a therapist at the beginning — though you will eventually learn to do your own ERP exercises to help manage your symptoms.

4. Know when you need help

Since mild obsessional symptoms are common in the general population, you don’t get a diagnosis of OCD unless your obsessions and compulsions interfere with your life, or stop you from doing some of the things you want. People with OCD may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both. There is a possibility that one’s symptoms will change over time.

Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges or mental images that cause anxiety. Obsessions can include:

  • Concern with germs or contamination
  • Unwanted taboo thoughts
  • Aggressive thoughts towards others or self
  • Organizing and/or making things symmetrical

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors a person with OCD feels the urge to complete in response to an obsessive thought. Compulsions may include:

  • Excessive cleaning and/or handwashing
  • Arranging things in a certain order
  • Repeatedly checking on things
  • Compulsive counting

It’s important to note that not all of these habits are compulsions or obsessions. However, people with OCD spend at least one hour a day focusing on these thoughts or behaviors.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Treatments

Effective treatments for each person with OCD varies — just as the symptoms of OCD vary from person to person. Treatments can include one or more of the following:

Cognitive-behavior therapy

Cognitive-behavior therapy is a type of treatment that helps individuals of all ages cope with and change problematic thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Cognitive therapists suggest that OCD results when an individual misinterprets intrusive thoughts or urges as a sign that not only will harm occur, but that they may be responsible for it because of what they do or what they fail to do. CBT seeks to help the individual understand that their problem is one of anxiety rather than danger and to react accordingly.

Medications

Medications known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) have been used for many years to treat OCD. Antidepressants approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat OCD include:

  • Clomipramine (Anafranil) for adults and children 10 years and older
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac) for adults and children 7 years and older
  • Fluvoxamine for adults and children 8 years and older
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva) for adults only
  • Sertraline (Zoloft) for adults and children 6 years and older

Hospitalization

As with any psychiatric disorder, OCD can cause a range of impairment. In rare cases, psychiatric inpatient hospitalization is necessary for individuals with severe OCD symptoms.

Therapy in Combination with Other Methods is Effective

Therapy alone can work very well, and many people recover without taking any medication. Many people with OCD find medication helpful, and experts agree that the right drug teamed with therapy or ERP is highly effective.

As much as you may wish for a magic pill and a treatment that won’t take much effort, OCD might continue to play a part in your life. The answer to your pain is out there, you just need to find the right treatment plan for your situation.

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