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How Do Psychologists Treat OCD?

Ever heard someone casually toss around “I’m so OCD” in conversations? For those diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it’s a frustrating misrepresentation of the reality they face. While some might use this term to describe a preference for tidiness or perfectionistic tendencies, OCD goes way deeper.

Let’s dive into a couple of examples:

Michael’s Constant Worry: Imagine feeling responsible for your child’s safety, haunted by intrusive thoughts about contamination or toxins on everything they touch. Michael feels extremely responsible for the well-being of his 6-year-old daughter. For most of the day, he gets bombarded with extremely anxiety-provoking intrusive thoughts about objects around her being contaminated or containing toxic materials and particles. He mostly worries about her developing cancer in a few years for having been exposed to contaminants. His fears and worries are so unbearable that he spends most of his day reorganizing his environment and engaging in excessive checking and cleaning. For example, he goes through the list of materials included in his daughter’s toys and objects, spends several hours per day cleaning her room, has told friends and family members to never give her toys or food, and has asked the school to ban perfumes, non-organic products, and other potentially toxic substances and toys. These behaviours take so much time from Michael’s schedule that he is starting to dwell on thoughts about being a “bad father” and has started feeling very depressed.

Track athlete with performance anxiety preparing to run at the starting line

Tatiana’s Kitchen Nightmare: Tatiana cannot take part in her favourite activity anymore: cooking and baking with her mom. Every time she tries, she starts experiencing extremely bothersome intrusive images about stabbing her mom with one of the knives they use for cooking. Before completely avoiding cooking with her mom, she had tried other strategies that ended up making the intrusive images even more frequent. She tried to cut vegetables while staying in a corner of the kitchen far from her mom. She also tried to use plastic knives. Tatiana would spend a lot of time seeking reassurance from her mom, wondering if, deep down, she was a bad person or even a “psychopath”. Despite her mom constantly reassuring her, Tatiana continued to be haunted by her intrusions and ended up engaging in full avoidance, thus significantly reducing her quality of life.

    Anxious girl preparing food with mom

    Understanding the Real Deal with OCD

    OCD isn’t a quirk or a mere label; it’s a serious mental health condition affecting around 2.3% of the population (Ruscio et al., 2010). It’s characterized by intrusive, distressing thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These intrusive thoughts are surprisingly common but, for those with OCD, they cause extreme distress.

    Why Do These Symptoms Stick Around?

    Research tells us that we all experience intrusive thoughts occasionally (Radomsky et al., 2014). However, those with OCD assign greater significance to these thoughts, leading to distress. The compulsions—like constant checking or cleaning—provide temporary relief but reinforce the belief that these thoughts are crucial (Rachman,1997).

     

    CBT – The Game-Changer

    Enter cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), the superhero of OCD treatment. CBT unravels the mysteries of OCD and empowers individuals to reclaim their lives. It starts with psychoeducation—understanding that intrusive thoughts are universal. Then comes exposure and response prevention (ERP), a powerful technique that challenges compulsions and normalizes doubt

    Silhouette of super hero

    Putting CBT into Action

    In therapy involving ERP, clients confront their fears, while their therapist supports them in resisting the urge to engage in compulsive behaviors. It’s not easy, but it’s a collaborative process, and therapists ensure clients are ready for each step. Plus, therapy can be creative, involving experiments to challenge beliefs, making the process engaging and even fun at times!

    Anxious teen girl with OCD crying on couch at the therapist office

    The Journey to Recovery

    As therapy progresses, clients learn to manage uncertainties, reducing the power these intrusive thoughts hold. The goal is not just symptom relief but equipping clients with obsessive-compulsivetools to prevent relapse and thrive beyond therapy.

    Seeking Support

    If you’re grappling with OCD, reach out! The Mindful Living Centre offers CBT, a gold-standard treatment for OCD (NICE, 2005). Let’s unravel the mysteries of OCD together and reclaim your life!

    References:

    National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. (2005). Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Core interventions in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder. London, England: HMSO.

    Rachman, S. (1997). A cognitive theory of obsessions. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35, 793-802.

    Radomsky, A. S., Alcolado, G. M., Abramowitz, J. S., Alonso, P., Belloch, A., Bouvard, M., … Garcia-Soriano, G. (2014). Part 1—You can run but you can’t hide: Intrusive thoughts on six continents. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 3, 269-279

    Ruscio, A. M., Stein, D. J., Chiu, W. T., & Kessler, R. C. (2010). The epidemiology of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Molecular Psychiatry, 15, 53-63.

    Mr. Jean-Philippe Gagné

    Dr. Jean-Philippe Gagné

    Clinical Psychologist

    Please note: this article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for therapy or advice from a qualified professional.