Making Therapy For Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Accessible Online

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects approximately 2.5 million Americans, translating to roughly 1% of the population. The disorder tends to be characterized by intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive actions (compulsions).

A person with OCD may experience obsessions, compulsions, or both. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts and urges that can induce anxiety. Some common obsessive thoughts include concerns about contamination, perfectionism, or unwanted sexual thoughts.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels they need to perform. Often to relieve an obsession. These actions usually deviate from daily life routines, like bedtime rituals. Mental health professionals, such as licensed therapists or OCD specialists, can help in treating OCD through a tailored treatment plan. Common OCD compulsions include excessive cleaning, repeated checking, and mental compulsions, like counting.

Several factors contribute to the development of OCD, such as genes, differences in the brain. and mental health conditions. A licensed therapist or OCD therapist can accurately diagnose the disorder by assessing obsessions, compulsive behaviors, and the impact these have on an individual's life. Treatment options like online OCD therapy or in-person sessions with an own practice can help manage symptoms.

The International OCD Foundation states that two treatments have proven effective for OCD. One is medication, which a doctor can prescribe. The second is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. With ERP, individuals are exposed to situations that prompt their anxiety and are taught how to respond in a way that doesn’t involve a compulsion.

Finding a therapist who has experience treating OCD can be time-consuming. Many people find that medical internet research is a great way to start. This type of research allows individuals to get information about the therapist’s credentials, experience, and specializations.  Additionally, many mental health professionals accept insurance coverage, which may help reduce OCD treatment costs. If insurance is not an option, some therapists may offer a sliding scale fee based on the client’s income and financial situation. It is essential to ensure that you are comfortable with the therapist before committing to beginning working together.

Online CBT for OCD: Effectiveness study

If you think you might be experiencing OCD, therapy can help

Although CBT has proven to be an effective treatment for OCD, the disorder remains undertreated.

Researchers in Sweden recognized the need for more readily available CBT for OCD and the possible efficacy of online cognitive-behavioral therapy. They designed a study to examine the impact of online CBT on OCD, predicting that outcomes would include decreased OCD symptoms and depression and improved general functioning.

Research methods

In the Swedish study, the intervention was designed using current CBT methods for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. Participants were split into 50 in the online CBT group and 51 in the control group.

The intervention was designed using current CBT methods for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. It consisted of two main parts: approximately 100 pages of reading and worksheets that were divided into 10 modules. 

The general information presented to participants covered psychoeducation and the reasoning behind the treatment in modules 1-4. However, modules 5-10 were tailored based on each person’s subtype of OCD. Therapists decided what personalized information was presented and the order in which it was made available. All of the necessary information—worksheets, text information, audio files, self-assessments, and therapist email information—was available on a treatment platform.

The program lasted for 10 weeks, so participants were encouraged to complete one module a week. Participants could contact their assigned therapist throughout the treatment and receive a reply within 24 hours on weekdays. Therapists also contacted participants who hadn’t logged in to the platform in a week, first by SMS and then by a phone call if necessary.

Those in the control group also completed 10 weeks of treatment. Their treatment consisted of online non-directive supportive therapy. They were able to email an assigned therapist throughout the 10-week program. 

After completing the study, participants were assessed using the self-reported Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale to examine depressive symptoms. The Clinical Global Impression Scale and the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale were used to assess the severity of the disorder and the impact it had on day-to-day life and the response to treatment.

Researchers chose to offer the online CBT treatment to the control group after they completed the 10 weeks of online non-directive supportive therapy.

Results 

Both groups saw improvements in their obsessive-compulsive disorder. Of the control group, 6% of participants saw clinically significant change. However, among those who had their OCD treated with online therapy, 60% achieved clinically significant change. For 54% of participants, the results were sustained four months later at follow-up.

Reducing obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is widely considered an effective treatment for OCD, with studies showing that 75% of patients see a reduction in symptoms after participation. If you or someone you love is looking to address OCD or any other mental health-related concern, online therapy through BetterHelp can provide the support you need.

Managing your OCD symptoms often requires a shift in your mindset, both in approaching the world and speaking to yourself. An article from a psychologist with the International OCD Foundation offers some tips for successful treatment.

Avoid an all-or-nothing mindset

Expecting that you should never slip up can lead to disappointment especially when dealing with online OCD therapy. Compulsions are likely going to happen. Instead of feeling angry or upset when you perform a compulsion, consider taking note of what triggers the behavior and discuss it with your therapist during live video sessions. The goal is progress, not perfection, and a tailored treatment plan can help achieve it.

Be mindful of therapy homework

Because a common OCD treatment is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, often integrated with CBT therapy, your therapist will likely ask you to be exposed to your obsessions. On an online therapy platform, you may have daily or weekly homework assignments through a patient portal. Being diligent about completing your homework and staying focused on your online treatment can help you reinforce concepts and further manage symptoms.

If you think you might be experiencing OCD, therapy can help

You might also try to find a balance in your therapy homework. If an assignment seems too daunting and you know you won’t be able to complete it, it may be best to speak up. On the other hand, you can probably expect that you should feel at least somewhat challenged when doing the homework assigned during online therapy.

Accept your anxiety

Facing thoughts and actions that cause anxiety can help you identify and overcome certain things that prompt your compulsions. Engaging in online OCD treatment and joining OCD community support groups might encourage a positive perspective on challenges—they may help you grow and could potentially alleviate your OCD symptoms through experiences and effective therapeutic approaches.

Takeaway

If you are experiencing OCD, know that you are not alone. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist with training and experience using exposure and response prevention or other types of therapy to help people with OCD. You can talk to a therapist from the comfort of your own home, without having to deal with your insurance company. You can contact your therapist in between sessions via in-app messaging if you have questions or difficulty with OCD symptoms. With online therapy, you may find that you experience improvement in your thoughts and a decrease in urges to engage in compulsions. Take the first step toward improved mental health and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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