Written by:Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Published On: June 7, 2022

Medically reviewed by: Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Reviewed On: June 7, 2022

Updated On: July 17, 2023


Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition marked by obsessive thoughts coupled with compulsive behaviors you hope will stop intrusive thoughts or mental images. The condition evolves into a vicious cycle of thinking, then acting to stop thoughts, then having thoughts again, and then performing acts again.

Millions of Americans live with the sometimes-daily recurring thoughts and behaviors that are common in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Scientists and mental health professionals consider therapy a valuable, effective treatment option for managing OCD symptoms.

Talk therapy for OCD teaches you to understand your obsessions and compulsions better. Further, it helps you learn and practice more efficacious techniques to cope with symptoms, so you can enhance your quality of life.

Let’s look at the types of therapy that are most beneficial in treating OCD. We’ll cover how they work and discuss specific techniques for each.

Types of Therapy

OCD is not uncommon. The good news, though, is that it’s a highly treatable mental health condition. With the right therapy and possibly the use of OCD medication, you can learn to live with it. Just how common is OCD diagnosis? According to Mind Diagnostics:

  • About 2.5% of adults in the US have OCD
  • About 1% of children in the US have OCD
  • Nearly 51% of people with OCD experience severe impairment
  • Close to 35% experience mild-to-moderate symptoms
  • Just over 14% experience mild symptoms

Several OCD therapy techniques are known to be effective treatment options for obsessive compulsive disorder. They include:

  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP).

Next, we’ll do a deep dive into each of these therapeutic approaches and techniques to learn more about how they can combat severe OCD.

How psychodynamic therapy works for OCD

“Psychodynamic Therapy explores the relationships and events in someone’s life to help identify triggers that lead to anxiety. It helps them understand their sense of self, view of the world, and personal narrative. These elements are then examined in relation to the adverse OCD symptoms, to understand the deeper reasons behind the automatic responses to anxiety.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), PhD Reshawna Chapple

Psychodynamic therapy techniques for OCD

Psychodynamic therapy for OCD uses the concepts of transference-focused therapy and psychoanalysis. It aims to help you understand and appreciate the link between past experiences and your current common thoughts and behaviors.

According to researchers, short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (STPP) is unique. It differs from other forms of OCD treatments because it targets anticipating, recognizing, understanding, communicating, and defeating adverse and unwanted cognitions with the intent of bettering your overall well-being and experiences.

During psychodynamic sessions, troublesome experiences from the past are intentionally brought to light. Then, you’ll be able to assess and address the challenges these experiences are creating in the present.

When you learn to understand the connection between your past experiences and negative reactions, you become empowered to modify those behaviors, so that you can replace them with positive actions.

How cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works for OCD

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) recognizes that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a proactive treatment that utilizes several methods to deal with the behavioral and psychological aspects of OCD.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT helps you replace the automatic responses to anxiety with more healthy choices and behaviors.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), PhD Reshawna Chapple

Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for OCD

Mindfulness-based CBT is one of the more particularly effective therapies for OCD. Its primary goal is to develop your ability to willingly accept and fully experience undesirable thoughts, urges, and feelings. During online therapy sessions, you’ll agree to face these undesirable sensations in a healthier way. You’ll learn to respond without avoidance behaviors, reassurance seeking, or compulsions.

A CBT therapist works with you to assess the troubling, destructive, unhealthy, obsessive thought patterns that are resulting in undesirable reactions. Together, you’ll work to come up with concrete, actionable steps that’ll decrease symptom severity and frequency.

Psychological assays like the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (YBOCS) are used to create a thorough list of OCD symptoms. This detailed list can then be used as a helpful guide for another branch of CBT or cognitive therapy called exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP).

How exposure and response prevention works for OCD

Exposure and response prevention techniques for OCD

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy exposes you to your fears so you can build coping strategies to face and overcome them. Typically, you’ll start with your least-dreaded fears.

Exposure can be gained through suggested thoughts, physical objects, sounds, images, or even virtual reality. During repetitive exposure, you’ll learn how to not engage in the types of compulsive behaviors you normally might.

The length of exposure is gradually increased while you learn to correct unhealthy reactionary behaviors. Of course, ERP can be uncomfortable, especially in the initial stages. However, routine exposure therapy sessions coupled with regular homework result in many people making significant improvements quite quickly.

ERP provides people living with OCD an opportunity to learn new information and practice effective techniques to overcome fears. It can be an empowering way to move forward in life, more mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and urges.

Successful ERP might mean you’re better equipped to not to react negatively, and instead intentionally act in a positive manner. This type of therapy is also known to be effective to treat OCD in children.

Multi-university research concludes that the research we currently have about the efficacy of ERP for OCD treatment is encouraging. More research still needs to be done, but this form of exposure therapy can target specific areas of struggle and work to improve stress tolerance and dysfunctional beliefs and thought patterns.

“Exposure and response therapy (ERP): A form of therapy that helps the client overcome their OCD by gradually exposing them to situations they associate with OCD-inducing anxiety.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), PhD Reshawna Chapple

Finding a Therapist for OCD

Skills learned in psychodynamic therapy, CBT, ERP, and other types of therapy for OCD can offer lifelong benefits. Therapy is a vehicle to teach you how to gain a realistic perspective on impulses that might have been causing your adverse compulsive behavior.

If you’re interested in exploring how talk therapies for OCD can help reduce your OCD symptom severity and frequency, be sure to choose a therapist who makes you feel comfortable and who is experienced in OCD treatment.

Expressing yourself openly and trusting your therapist will be essential. Be open about any issues that make you uncomfortable throughout the process. It’s important to establish an effective working relationship with any therapist you see if you’re going to optimize the results you achieve.

Research has shown you can gain the best results from OCD therapy techniques when you’re motivated to change problematic thought and behavior patterns. Moving ahead with therapy can be life-changing for the better, especially if you’re wholly dedicated to the process.

Talkspace offers a unique approach to therapy. Online sessions mean you can work to better-cope with OCD on your time, in the convenience of wherever you’re most comfortable. You don’t have to waste time and energy getting to and from appointments. Talkspace is affordable, easy-to-access, and effective.

Find out how Talkspace can help you take control of your OCD. Get started on a path to wellness today.

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Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Dr. Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW is a Therapist and Peer Consultant at Talkspace. She is a California born - Florida based Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Central Florida. Her areas of research, teaching and practice include the intersection of race, gender and ability, intimate partner violence and trauma recovery, and access to culturally responsive mental health treatment for Black women and Deaf women.

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