Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a neurobiological disorder that causes unwanted and recurrent distressing thoughts (obsessions), as well as repetitive senseless rituals (compulsions). OCD is a complex disorder and many individuals affected are afraid to seek treatment. However, effective treatments are available.
The primary therapy recommended to treat OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy, specifically, the CBT technique referred to as exposure and response prevention or ERP. ERP involves having an individual deliberately face their feared object, situation, or thought (exposure), while being voluntarily prevented from carrying out their compulsive rituals (response prevention). This can be done either directly or by imagination. It is always done with the patient's permission.
An example of how ERP works might look like this:
An individual who fears contamination and subsequently compulsively washes their hands may be asked to approach a situation in which they fear contamination will occur, such as shaking someone's hand. Then, they are prevented from washing their hands for a certain amount of time, say one hour. They would repeat this exercise several times, over a period of time, until they no longer experience anxiety about contamination when shaking someone else's hand.
These exposure exercises are conducted with a therapist in treatment sessions, as well as outside of the therapy setting through carefully structured homework assignments. ERP has been shown to be effective in treating OCD in children and adults.
In addition to ERP, a number of medications have also been shown to be useful in treating OCD. Specific medications shown to be effective include: clomipramine (Anafranil), sertraline (Zoloft), fluvoxamine (Luvox), fluoxetine (Prozac), escitalopram (Lexapro), and paroxetine (Paxil). While these medications may take several weeks to start working, and can include side effects, they have been carefully studied in many rigorous trials.
In order for treatment to be effective, individuals need to be highly motivated and have good family support. They must also have the guidance of a well trained therapist. When these factors are met, ERP and medication can be highly effective in treating OCD.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is affected by OCD or another disorder, contact your health care provider immediately.
- Kara Meyer, Ph.D.
**The content of this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other medical professional. This blog does not provide clinical advice, nor should its contents be considered clinical advice. Should you have any healthcare-related questions, please call or see your physician or other healthcare provider promptly.