Individual, Family & Group Psychotherapy
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Jun 2

By Annabella Hagen, LCSW, RPT-S

If you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, you likely feel exhausted every day. The anxiety and tormenting thoughts may lead you to internal and external rituals. These compulsions provide relief — at least temporarily. You probably wish there was a magic pill or treatment that could take the suffering away permanently.

If you were told that the answer to a better life is found at the top of a high mountain, would you be willing to climb it? You would be warned, “It will be a stormy and an arduous ascent, but once you get to the top, you’ll find what you are looking for!” Would you take the chance and do what it takes to get there? It could be the hardest thing you’ve done in your life. Would you still consider it?

You might hesitate to sign up for such a challenge. You may hope that “things will get better.” After all, your compulsions grant you the relief you need daily. You may experience “good days,” and decide that climbing this mountain may not really be for you. It is human nature not to want to do hard things. If there are easier ways to obtain what we need, we usually opt for that. Why not?

Some OCD sufferers may choose to continue doing their compulsions. They may believe they are unable to do difficult things. Others may continue to endure in silence and may be unaware that there are answers to their misery. There are some who begin the climb and realize they aren’t ready to do it. However, if you are in search of an answer to your OCD challenges, consider these six things. They will enhance your chances to successfully find what you need.

Know that OCD is a physiological illness just like other illnesses. It’s not your fault that you have OCD. OCD may target what you care about the most, and your obsessions may be related to or triggered by an event in your life. However, OCD has nothing to do with your character and your worth. It has to do with a neurological dysfunction in some of the structures and chemicals in your brain. Research also shows that OCD is most likely a genetic predisposition. You may have a close or distant relative with OCD or related disorders. Know that medication is relevant in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Understand that behavioral, cognitive, and environmental factors are also involved in OCD. Medication often is not enough. There might be some individuals who are fortunate to find relief from most of their symptoms once they start medication. However, this doesn’t happen often. You need to understand that medication doesn’t take care of the mental and behavioral rituals. A combination of medication and psychotherapy will provide best results.
Your compulsions heighten OCD symptoms. You need a treatment that will help you understand how to decrease and eventually eliminate those compulsions. You’ll also need to be aware of your thinking errors and learn how to address them. Studies provide evidence that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that includes exposure and response prevention (ERP) is the psychotherapy of choice for OCD. CBT that includes ERP will provide the best opportunity to change your brain pathways. Not all CBT skills that are adequate for treating depression, anxiety and other disorders are effective in treating OCD. OCD is a complicated illness and your provider needs to understand what elements of CBT are useful for treating OCD. Research is also showing that implementation of mindfulness skills will enhance the opportunity for success. The IOCD Foundation website is a great resource to keep you informed regarding evidence-based treatments for OCD.
“Doing” is the key to success. OCD sufferers often ask how they can make sure to remember what’s being taught. The answer is usually, “your OCD mind will ‘get it’ when you practice the skills.” This response may be difficult for some people who aren’t used to practicing the skills they are taught. Getting into new routines can be difficult and uncomfortable. This might be one of the more grueling segments of treatment.The effectiveness of CBT, ERP, and mindfulness skills are tested as individuals climb to the top of the mountain — one step at a time. When individuals “graduate’ from treatment, they are asked, “What made the difference in your progress? What helped you the most?” They usually answer, “It was the exposures. When I was proactive in doing exposures, my OCD mind finally got it!”
Trust the process. The research is there. If your treatment provider knows how to treat OCD, you will see the results. Put forth your best effort and you’ll have a meaningful and rich life despite OCD. It takes courage to climb up a mountain that you’ve never climbed before. But as you think of your life and where OCD has taken you or is taking you, it may be worth your effort. The climb may be arduous, but you and your loved ones will appreciate the results.
Take advantage of the relentlessness you have inherited from OCD. OCD is a stubborn illness and most likely you have a stubborn streak within you. Turn it into strength. Become determined to climb the mountain. Endure it the best you can as you learn new skills for life.
As much as you may wish for a magic pill and a treatment that won’t take much effort, OCD will continue to play a huge part in your life. The answer to your pain is out there, but you’ve got to work for it. The satisfaction you’ll find as you reach the summit will be priceless. You will find that the “magic” is in doing and becoming proactive in your treatment. Remember that many individuals have done it, and so can you.

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