3 types of OCD treatment used by therapists

If you have OCD, your compulsions can interfere with your ability to handle everyday responsibilities. The excessive behaviors take up an inordinate amount of time. But they can also prevent you from enjoying time with your loved ones due to the potential triggers. That’s why it’s important to explore different OCD treatment options.

If you’re struggling with OCD symptoms, you’re not alone. In fact, 1.2% of the entire U.S. population is affected by OCD, which adds up to about 2.5 million people. Since so many people live with OCD, there has been plenty of research done over the years about treatment options. 

Read on to learn about the ins and outs of OCD as well as potential treatment options that are recommended by researchers and mental health providers.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, usually referred to as OCD, is an anxiety disorder that causes you to have a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and obsessions. These lead to compulsive and excessive behaviors, known as compulsions, that are meant to alleviate anxiety. But they actually don’t provide any long-term relief beyond temporary satisfaction. That satisfaction will fade once the obsession recurs.

Obsessions are typically based on a specific type of fear. Here is a list of a few common obsessions and the potential compulsions that they can cause:

  • Contamination (fear of dirt or feeling impure) — Excessive hand-washing, surface cleaning, changing clothes
  • Organizing (fear of unevenness or forgetfulness) — Ensuring symmetry, turning all labels the same way, making sure everything fits a pattern or system
  • Intrusive thoughts (fear of causing harm to others) — Repeating the same word, phrase or prayer 
  • Checking (fear of causing damage or harm due to carelessness) — Repeatedly checking for locked doors, that appliances are turned off

3 types of potential OCD treatment techniques 

Psychotherapy should be the first treatment option that you explore for OCD treatment. There are several OCD treatment techniques that will help alleviate your symptoms.

Exposure and response therapy

Exposure and response therapy, or ERP, is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the go-to technique for many cases of OCD treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy centers on the idea that you can alleviate symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder by reworking how your thoughts, emotions and behaviors work together. For OCD, this treatment means understanding how your brain sends the signals that lead to obsessions and compulsions.

Exposure and response therapy gradually exposes you to your obsessions and the fears behind them. But the therapist will instruct you not to perform a compulsion. You’ll start by making a list of your obsessions and compulsions with the therapist, ranked from least to most frightening. They’ll ask you to confront the easiest one, and work your way up the list.

After being exposed to each fear, such as dirt or a disorganized area, response therapy comes into play. Instead of responding immediately with a compulsion, the therapist may ask you to wait a bit before completing the ritual. The proposed waiting time will increase with each exposure. By confronting your obsessions, the fear surrounding them will slowly decrease.  

Imaginal exposure

ERP is a big first step for many with OCD, and imaginal exposure can be a good OCD treatment technique for preparation. Instead of directly interacting with your fear, your therapist will ask you to imagine it instead. Imaginal exposure is a visualization technique that involves picturing a specific situation in your head where you confront an obsession.

The therapist will walk you through a scenario that would cause you anxiety if you were confronted with it in an everyday situation. They will instruct you to slightly deviate away from your regular compulsions a bit more with each visualization while monitoring your anxiety level. Every time you imagine the scenario, your anxiety level can slightly decrease, helping you to become desensitized to the fear. Your therapist can then help you make the leap toward ERP.

Habit reversal training

Compulsions are habits that seem unbreakable. But with habit reversal, you can “unlearn” the behavior and decrease your anxiety. Habit reversal is an OCD treatment that involves several different components, especially awareness and competing responses.

It starts off with becoming aware of your habits and acknowledging the sensations that it causes throughout your body. Awareness training usually involves doing the compulsion in front of a mirror so you can recognize how your body moves while you complete the habit.

A competing response refers to a slight change in the movement that’s often not noticeable to others but directly interferes with the compulsion. For instance, instead of reaching out to touch an object to count or reorganize it, your therapist can teach you how to occupy your hands instead of completing the compulsion, such as tensing your arm and making a fist.

The other factors of habit reversal training include social support, positive reinforcement and relaxation techniques. The goal of this OCD treatment is to let yourself feel rewarded for making healthy habit changes, instead of experiencing anxiety for not completing a behavior.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help you find the right OCD treatment

While it may seem like your OCD obsessions and compulsions will never fade, there are several therapy techniques that can help alleviate your symptoms. And when you’re ready to find the right OCD treatment for you, we’re here to help.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step toward OCD treatment, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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