Even in complex cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that significantly impact quality of life, treatment and recovery are possible. It is best to start with an understanding of the full range of treatment options and approaches.
Understanding OCD Treatment Options
When treating OCD, the predominant treatment options include:
- Exposure and response prevention (ERP)
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Anxiety management
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Process group
- Medications (in certain circumstances)
While some of these are more effective at treating OCD than others, we’ve found the best treatment approach is often multi-faceted and includes a blend of OCD treatment strategies alongside holistic lifestyle improvement.
Treatment Approaches for OCD
There are two predominant schools of thought about how to treat OCD. One advocates for learning how to better manage thoughts, feelings, memories, and habits with the goal of eventually eliminating unpleasant ones, thereby removing the triggers of OCD rituals and compulsions.
The other school of thought proposes that these unpleasant experiences can be built upon, and instead of focusing on making them go away, we can learn to accept them as a way of working toward a better life. By focusing on how someone responds to these unpleasant triggers and reframing it around acceptance, the individual regains a sense of control over their life and can make more conscious choices about how they want to live.
It is impossible to say that one approach is better than the other. Some individuals may find more success by learning to accept unpleasant experiences and building on them. Others may prefer to more actively manage their thought patterns to work through their struggles. OCD treatment should be tailored to the specific history, needs, and goals of the individual.
Setting Treatment Goals for OCD
When treating OCD, it is essential to establish realistic treatment goals from the outset. For example, if someone has to follow a two-hour ritual before they feel comfortable leaving the house, eliminating the ritual from their life altogether isn’t a realistic treatment goal to start with. Instead, treatment should focus on understanding the underlying thought patterns driving the ritual and beginning to deconstruct them. From there, you can aim to reduce the time spent performing the ritual, decreasing it incrementally, until the individual realizes they can leave the house without performing the ritual and nothing terrible will happen.
At the same time, it’s not only the individual struggling with OCD who needs to establish treatment goals. The people around them also need to be involved in establishing and following through on treatment goals. That’s because people struggling with OCD often seek out validation from those around them. If the people who care about them enable their rituals, obsessions, and compulsions, they only worsen. Everyone needs to be working toward the same treatment goals while respecting boundaries.
Are you or someone you care about struggling with obsessive-compulsive thought patterns? Here’s what to watch for. Learn More
Obsessive Compulsive Treatment Options
The best way to treat OCD is going to depend on the individual, but as you’re researching what’s best for you or someone you care about, start by considering:
Exposure and response prevention is one of the core treatments for OCD. ERP encourages individuals to confront the issue in order to improve psychological flexibility. The most important part of ERP is not merely that the person is exposed to the subject of their obsession or compulsion, but to get them to a point where they’re closer to living the life they want.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) has become one of the most promising treatment options for OCD. ACT (pronounced like “act”) is a psychological flexibility model that, as discussed above, encourages people to simply encounter their thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, and urges. Instead of judging or managing those inner experiences, ACT gives individuals the tools and skills to accept them, even the unpleasant ones, so they don’t interfere with life satisfaction or fulfillment.
Anxiety is a spectrum, and we view OCD as an extreme form of anxiety on that spectrum. People with OCD are immensely anxious, so to treat OCD, you also have to treat anxiety. Anxiety management involves a group setting where individuals gain insight into their thought patterns, cognitive distortions, underlying assumptions, and core beliefs. At the same time, they gain the skills to reframe their perspective as needed.
First developed in the 1960s, CBT has been the predominant treatment option for decades, and it remains a viable tool for certain individuals struggling with OCD. As mentioned above, CBT generally falls into the school of thought where the goal is to eliminate unpleasant inner experiences by managing and reframing thought patterns.
Neurofeedback works by measuring brain activity and rewarding positive thought patterns while penalizing negative thoughts. Treatment helps to retrain the brain to maintain a relaxed or focused state with consistent positive and negative reinforcement.
Process group often helps accelerate the progress seen during OCD treatment by helping individuals share their thoughts and emotions with individuals who have been where they are. At the same time, they can help others who are where they have been. Group discussions can help spread insights, perspectives, and advice that wouldn’t otherwise arise with individual treatment alone.
Is PCH Right for You?
If you’re exploring OCD treatment options, the good news is that recovery is possible. Whether you’re concerned about your own obsessive-compulsive tendencies or you’re beginning to recognize them in someone you care about, take comfort in the fact that you have options. PCH is here to help you understand those options. Find out if PCH is right for you or discover the success we’ve seen in treating severe cases of OCD.