What We Mean By OCD Treatment
At PCH, we avoid the terms “disorder” and “mental illness” as they are part of a paradigm that tries to encapsulate human experience within a medical or disease model for which no biological evidence has ever been found. However, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an example of a psychiatric term that has become so much a part of the English language that it’s difficult to get away from the label. How often do we hear others refer to their precise or repeated behaviors as being “a little OCD”? You may see memes on the internet or characters on TV shows that caricature OCD and anxiety disorders for the sake of humor.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that an obsessive-compulsive cognitive style is a part of normal human behavior, and can be both adaptive and productive when engaged in certain tasks. While labeling such behavior as pathological is understandable, it doesn’t help distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive behavior.
During this time of a global pandemic and social distancing, it is very human and “normal” to experience anxiety and to be hyper-vigilant about touching surfaces and cleanliness (typically viewed as OCD symptoms). This reality illustrates the importance of context in understanding what are often labeled psychiatric symptoms.
That’s why it’s vital to distinguish between human reactions to uncertainty or threat and the reaction of feeling debilitated or paralyzed by the feeling of an ever-present threat. This perspective is all the more important when individuals use obsessive and compulsive thoughts to control uncertain or painful thoughts and feelings. When those coping mechanisms become debilitating, it’s essential to seek support and new coping skills to manage those feelings and behavior.
When our clients turn to PCH, these are the strategies our dedicated residential treatment staff uses to help them overcome struggles related to OCD.
Our Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Treatments
Exposure and Response Prevention
As a form of behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention (ERP) has become the primary way to treat individuals experiencing difficulties related to OCD. Our ERP coaches slowly expose the client to the specific stimulus or preference they’re struggling with while providing the support they need to refrain from the behavior it triggers.
Whether it’s a compulsion, avoidance, or escape behavior, a dedicated ERP coach uses a variety of strategies, including direct exposure, indirect exposure, verbal cues, or imagination, to gradually build the client’s awareness and resilience over time. For example, if an individual is struggling with a germ phobia that drives compulsive hand washing, our coach may not allow them to wash their hands for a certain period of time, slowly increasing the amount of time as the client progresses.
Even with severe OCD cases, we’ve seen significant progress by slowly helping clients understand the underlying factors and patterns driving compulsive behaviors, to the point that they no longer interfere with daily life.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
As practiced at PCH, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT, pronounced “act”) empowers individuals to develop the psychological flexibility to simply encounter the thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, and urges that are challenging them. When someone is struggling with OCD or obsessive-compulsive thought patterns, one of the most common responses is avoidance. They try to make the thoughts stop or go away. As a result, those inner experiences end up dictating their behavior and limiting their choices in the present moment.
With ACT, the OCD treatment team at PCH helps individuals take a different approach to dealing with anxiety-driven inner experiences. By giving individuals the tools and perspective to choose how they want to respond to unpleasant mental patterns, individuals learn to accept them and channel their response into committed action in service of the life they want to live.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In unison with ERP therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy provides clients with a framework to unlearn compulsive thought patterns and relearn new behaviors. A dedicated OCD therapist works with the client to empower them with positive mental attitudes and emotional responses to underlying triggers.
Cognitive behavioral therapy allows the client to take control of their treatment while an ERP therapist guides them toward specific goals. In addition to ongoing therapy (which can be performed in person, over the phone, or by video conferencing), the ERP therapist assigns homework that provides clients with supplemental reading material and drills they can use to reinforce a positive mindset.
In our experience, cognitive behavioral therapy offers a practical approach to treating compulsive behaviors related to deep-seated memories or preferences. For example, while an individual who feels the need to turn the lights on and off three times before entering a room may benefit from ERP, cognitive behavioral therapy may provide the mental awareness it takes to mitigate the chance of regressing.
With neurofeedback treatment, our OCD specialists monitor the client’s mindset to reinforce positive thought patterns. A computer analyzes the client’s brainwaves and rewards positive thoughts with pleasing sights and sounds, while providing negative feedback for negative thought patterns. This approach essentially enables clients to retrain their mental habits while engaging in relaxing or focusing activities such as meditation, yoga, creating art, visualizations, or breathing exercises.
Our process group therapy sessions allow individuals struggling with compulsive behaviors to share their experiences with others in a group setting. They may share insights gained from any of the above therapies while working together to process their emotions and experiences. In our experience, having a process group to verbalize their struggles, explore emotions, and build a sense of community is a core component of any treatment program.
How We’re Different From Other OCD Treatment Centers
At PCH, we use the label OCD sparingly so long as it helps our clients overcome the compulsive behaviors that may be interfering with their lives and relationships. As one of a handful of residential OCD treatment centers across the nation, our dedicated OCD treatment staff is here to provide hope for even the most severe compulsive behaviors with a holistic approach that focuses on the client’s experiences, not the diagnosis.
Severe OCD Treatment Case Study
By taking a dedicated, comprehensive approach to addressing underlying compulsive thought patterns, PCH has seen remarkable success in even the most severe instances of OCD. For example, one of our clients, a physician, struggled with a fear of germs and the compulsion to take eight-hour showers following a shift. By the time he left our treatment center, he was able to take less than a five-minute shower.
Take the Next Step Along the Treatment Path
Are you or a loved one ready to take the next step to addressing the underlying patterns behind specific compulsive behaviors? Reach out to the team at PCH today, and we’ll help answer any of your questions or set up a time to visit our facility.