Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by patterns of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, which are often distressing for the individual experiencing them. Around 1% of the world population is estimated to have OCD, but various treatments are available. If you're looking to find a therapist who can help address your symptoms, getting familiar with the most effective types of treatment for OCD and how to find a provider who is convenient for you to meet with can be beneficial.
What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
There are many false myths and stereotypes about OCD showcased in the media. and perpetuated in popular culture. That’s why it’s important to understand that OCD is a serious mental illness, not simply a clean, organized, or hyper-focused personality type.
- Contamination fears and compulsions
- Organizational fears and compulsions
- Harm fears and compulsions
- Intrusive thoughts (severely distressing and unwanted images or ideas)
- Checking behaviors, including reassurance seeking
- Inappropriately aggressive or sexual thoughts
- Fears regarding morality, values, and lawful behavior
- Fears regarding self-control
Not everyone with OCD experiences all types of compulsions; their thoughts, anxieties, and behaviors may vary widely. For example, one person living with the condition may compulsively check their door's locks multiple times each night, whereas another might avoid certain situations due to intrusive thoughts about harm. Although the themes of OCD can vary, the general pattern of obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals is present across all clinical cases.
The thoughts that a person with OCD has are often unwanted and distressing and may even involve explicit themes. The thoughts may go against the person's values, which can cause them to worry that because they are experiencing the thoughts, they believe in them or want to enact them in real life.
Because these thoughts can be undesirable and create stress, an individual may perform specific actions to reduce anxiety and push the thoughts away. These actions are known as compulsions, which are often ritualistic and carried out repetitively. A few examples of compulsions include:
- Skin picking
- Repeating mantras
- Seeking reassurance
Regardless of the content of the thoughts, those living with OCD may spend significant time and energy controlling or trying to eliminate them. Those with OCD may also recognize that their urges are not logical and may feel shame about them. This cycle can be detrimental to an individual's mental health and may also impact their relationships (which is especially common with subtypes like ROCD), work, and other aspects of life.
If you haven't been diagnosed with OCD but feel that the key symptoms match your experiences, consider contacting a mental health professional to confirm your diagnosis through testing, and/or interviewing. Note, however, that you do not need any kind of diagnosis to reach out for support from a therapist.
OCD And Other Conditions
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders tend to experience OCD at a higher rate. There are many similarities between the two disorders as both tend to manifest as compulsive behaviors, difficulty with change, restricted behaviors, and intense interest and focus on certain tasks.
There is also a link between OCD and eating disorders as well as body dysmorphic disorder. People experiencing these types of disorders may exhibit symptoms of OCD in how they prepare food, look at their body, or even in act of eating itself. For example, a person may have a compulsion to only eat a certain number of mouthfuls of food, which could lead to undereating.
If you or a loved one is experiencing an eating disorder, you can contact the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline for support and resources at 1-800-931-2237 (M–Th from 9AM–9PM EST and Fri 9AM–5PM EST).
How Is OCD Treated?
Just a few decades ago, OCD was considered untreatable. However, there are now several effective treatment options available for this condition. Certain forms of therapy, are usually the first line of treatment—particularly cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure and response prevention therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
One widely recognized treatment for OCD is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is also used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.
CBT is a form of talk therapy designed to challenge a client's unwanted or distorted thought patterns and shift them toward more constructive or positive ones. Learning to recognize such thoughts is usually the first step, which may be helped along through certain mindfulness-based practices.
Exposure And Response Prevention Therapy (ERP)
Exposure and response prevention (ERP), also sometimes referred to as exposure and ritual prevention (EXRP), is a type of CBT commonly used to treat OCD. The premise of exposure and response prevention or ERP therapy is that by subjecting the client to triggers of their anxious thoughts and helping them resist the urge to perform their compulsions, they may become desensitized to them over time. Exposure can be done in two ways:
- Exposure In Vivo: This method involves physically confronting the causes of obsessive thoughts. For instance, touching a public object and abstaining from hand-washing could reduce the fear of germs over time.
- Imaginal Exposure: In imaginal exposure, the client imagines the distressing obsessions and their perceived consequences. This technique might be used for explicit situations that cannot be practiced or faced in person ethically, such as the themes of some intrusive thoughts.
Before you begin exposure and response prevention therapy, your therapist may ask you to rate each of your fears surrounding not partaking in compulsions or facing your intrusive thoughts on a scale of zero to 100. They may then start with exposure to the lowest fears and move up over time. Using a graded worksheet, the therapist can then ask you to measure your stress levels during exposure. When your anxiety levels go down, it can show that you are progressing.
The Effectiveness Of CBT And ERP
CBT and exposure and response prevention therapy are currently the most effective methods for treating OCD, which is supported by empirical evidence. One recent study suggests that over 50% of individuals experience reduced symptoms of OCD or even remission after engaging in ERP. However, this modality may not be an effective way to treat OCD for everyone who experiences it, and a degree of willingness to partake in a challenging type of therapy like this also usually needs to be present for best results.
How To Find An OCD Counselor In Your Area
There are a few ways to find a therapist who has expertise in working with individuals experiencing obsessive-compulsive disorder. One is to search online for " OCD therapists near me.” Or, you can contact your insurance company if applicable and ask for a list of providers in or near your zip code who are in network. Once you find providers within a commutable distance, you can call and ask if they're accepting new patients for OCD treatment and what their rates are. You can also look into the provider’s credentials and any reviews you may be able to find to help you make your decision. If you find someone who seems like a good fit, you can schedule a session.
Alternative Counseling Options
If you do not have insurance, are having trouble finding options in your area, or would simply prefer to engage in therapy for treating OCD from home, you might also consider online therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
One study on internet-based CBT for obsessive-compulsive disorder suggests that this treatment can be even more practical and cost-effective than face-to-face options. In addition, internet-based programs are often more flexible, as you can meet with the therapist from home or somewhere else with an internet connection and potentially choose meeting times outside of standard business hours.
Through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are a few frequently asked questions about OCD.
Can OCD Go Away On Its Own?
OCD is considered to be manageable with treatment, but it’s unlikely to go away on its own. You may be able to work through an exposure workbook yourself, but it typically can’t replace the guidance of a therapist who is trained in the modality. In addition, a licensed psychologist can help you determine if you may be experiencing any comorbid conditions or symptoms so those can be addressed as well.
Should I Seek Out Professional Help?
Seeking professional help can be beneficial if you’re experiencing a mental health condition or challenge of any kind, and there are many options available. ERP and CBT are two of the most effective forms of therapy for treating OCD and symptoms in particular.
Can OCD Be Treated Without Medication?
Although medication may sometimes be used to support the management of symptoms of OCD, generally can’t treat it completely, and it may not be appropriate in all cases. Therapy is often a more effective form of treatment for OCD.
What kind of therapist is best for OCD?
Can a regular therapist help with OCD?
Is OCD treatment expensive?
How can I cure my OCD naturally?
Is a psychiatrist or psychologist better for OCD?
What triggers OCD?
Who should I consult for OCD?
Is OCD a personality disorder?
What is the first line of treatment for OCD?
How do I stop OCD thoughts?
What causes OCD to get worse?
What happens if OCD is not treated?
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