OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) is a mental disorder that causes sufferers to have repetitive thoughts or ‘obsessions.’ These obsessions cause anxiety, leading them to compulsively repeat behaviors. Repeating behaviors helps to ease the anxiety, bringing temporary relief.
OCD is not a death sentence
If you wonder whether you can recover from OCD, you’re not alone. OCD is one of seven types of mental disorders. It is a challenging condition that affects millions of people. The good news is that there are many effective options for treatment. Medications can be used to help manage OCD symptoms, as well as therapy. The most successful form of treatment for OCD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) including Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), with 75% of OCD sufferers reporting improvements in symptoms.
OCD triggers and behaviors are cyclical
- The sufferer has an intrusive thought or ‘obsession’
- The thought causes anxiety
- The anxiety soothed by repeating behavior (compulsion)
- The behavior brings temporary relief
An example of an OCD cycle
Here is an example of ‘Contamination behavior’
- My hands are dirty, I’m going to catch something
- This thought is giving me so much anxiety
- I’m going to wash my hands with soap a few more times, just to be sure they’re clean
- Now that I’ve washed my hands multiple times, I’m less anxious
Four categories of OCD and the behaviors that accompany them
- Symmetry and Ordering
- obsessive thinking and constantly intrusive thoughts
When you’re goal is to recover from OCD, be aware of the kinds of symptoms you have. OCD sufferers experience a wide range of symptoms. One OCD sufferer might be paralyzed by contamination behaviors, getting anxious when they don’t have access to a clean environment. Others may only experience paranoid thoughts, convincing themselves that a friend or family member is going to be physically harmed, either by themself or by someone else.
Where to start when you’re ready to recover from OCD
First, get evaluated. If you’re concerned you may be displaying symptoms of OCD, you should talk with your doctor or a licensed therapist for an evaluation and diagnosis. Once you know what your disorder entails, you can consider your treatment options to recover.
Medications to recover from OCD
While medication isn’t always necessary for OCD treatment, in some instances, doctors may recommend it. The most commonly used medications to treat OCD include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), TCAs (Tricyclic Antidepressants), and Antipsychotics.
People with OCD have lower levels of serotonin than they should. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that sends messages from the brain to the rest of the body. The body reabsorbs serotonin once the messages have been received.
SSRI medication essentially stops the reabsorption of serotonin, which results in more serotonin being available for the brain to use. This type of medication is the most commonly used to treat OCD.
Once treatment on SSRI medication has begun, it can start to have an effect after 1-3 weeks. It’s worth noting that they can take up to 12 weeks to become effective. If this medication has no positive effect, doctors will typically recommend changing to a different SSRI medication, or to try a different type of OCD medication altogether.
This type of medication is typically recommended after trying alternative treatments. TCAs, while effective for some, have been shown to give side effects such as panic attacks, insomnia, aggressive thoughts and impulsiveness.
Antipsychotics are usually used with SSRIs to enhance their effects. Some OCD sufferers also have tics. For these individuals, augmentation with antipsychotics can help make SSRI medications more effective.
Please note that any use of medications to treat OCD or otherwise should be discussed with your doctor prior to commencing.
In person therapy can help you recover from OCD
Outside of a global pandemic, in person therapy is a very popular option for treating OCD. The most widely recognized form of therapy treatments for OCD includes CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and ERP (Exposure Response Prevention).
CBT is a short-term, structured form of therapy that focuses on ‘here and now’ problems, rarely focussing on a patient’s past. CBT treatment usually lasts weeks or months, rather than years. As opposed to medication, and when practiced with a licensed professional, CBT does not have any risks or side effects associated with it.
Although CBT is incredibly effective at treating OCD, it can be pricey. Depending on where you live, and on the state of public health, your doctor may suggest group CBT for OCD symptoms, which typically is a lower cost than one-on-one therapy. While this may be intimidating at first, group CBT has been shown to be highly effective at improving OCD symptoms.
ERP is a type of therapy that exposes the patient to images, thoughts, objects and situations that triggers their anxiety, or starts an obsession. The Response Prevention part of ERP encourages the patient to not do one of their compulsive behaviours after being triggered. Eventually you will learn how to manage ERP exercises alone to help manage symptoms.
Depending on where you live in the world, in-person therapy may not be an option right now, either for financial reasons or due to COVID. You will be able to find CBT and ERP treatments through online therapy.
Online therapy is another option to recover from OCD
Online therapy treatment for OCD is becoming an increasingly popular option due to COVID-19.
There are many benefits of online therapy treatment for OCD. It’s incredibly accessible for people who have busy schedules or who are currently in confinement. Very often, it’s much more affordable than in-person therapy.
While in-person vs online therapy are two very distinct forms of treatment, research is continuously finding that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy.
Online therapy includes remote one-on-one therapy sessions, general OCD symptom management courses, or specific OCD symptom management courses.
While medications and therapy are the most commonly used forms of OCD treatment, there are things that you can do on your own that can help to ease OCD symptoms.
Stress can be managed using a variety of methods. Getting enough sleep is a great way to manage stress. Between 7-8 hours of sleep is the amount the vast majority of people need to thrive. Nutrition can also have an impact on stress, with foods interfering with our hormonal and chemical balance. Meditation can also be a useful practice for stress management, relaxation and mindfulness.
Take your time
As previously mentioned, OCD sufferers experience symptoms and triggers in different ways. Treatment to recover from OCD is individual and designed just for you. What works for one OCD sufferer may not work for you. If you are currently going through treatment and are not seeing any improvements, discuss other options with your doctor. It may take some trial and error to find what works for you, but you will find the right treatment plan in time.
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