What is OCD and How is it Treated?

People often use the term “OCD” offhandedly to apologize for quirky habits or explain away cautious traits. Occasional intrusive thoughts happen to most of us, as does some degree of repetitive behaviors. However, for people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), unwanted thoughts and behaviors can become an all-consuming struggle. Today we’re looking at what OCD really is, how it is diagnosed, and treatment options often recommended by professionals.

Symptoms of OCD

Intrusive and undesired thoughts, images, or urges are known as obsessions, and are often characterized by a theme such as:

  • Concerns about contamination
  • Fixation on order
  • Fear of acting on an impulse to harm oneself or a loved one
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts

Often, an obsessive thought (such as fear of germs) can lead to a repeated behavior or routine (such as hand washing a certain number of times), known as a compulsion.

While fulfilling a compulsion temporarily relieves discomfort caused by an obsessive thought, these behaviors can quickly become oppressive and lead to acute distress. They are frequently accompanied by feelings of shame and secrecy. While individuals with OCD typically recognize the irrationality of their rituals, they struggle to change the obsessive thoughts that often lead to destructive or harmful behaviors.

Who suffers from OCD?

Typically starting in childhood, OCD affects approximately 1 in 200 children and 1 in 100 adults.1 If left untreated, OCD is a chronic illness that can significantly impair quality of life.

Early diagnosis and treatment are critical. Unfortunately, one study found that only 30.9% of patients with severe symptoms of OCD and 2.9% of patients with moderately severe symptoms received treatment.2 With such a gap in care, the need for accessible mental health resources is more apparent than ever.

How is OCD treated?

  • Exposure and response prevention (ERP) – A form of behavioral therapy, ERP exposes patients with OCD to the situations that instigate their obsessive thoughts while equipping them to navigate their compulsive responses. This form of therapy promotes frequent exposure—also known as habituation—as an effective method for adjusting to and overcoming compulsive urges. Rather than focusing on getting rid of the unpleasant thoughts or feelings, ERP encourages individuals to adapt how they relate to these experiences.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – An extremely effective psychotherapy method for treating OCD, cognitive behavioral therapy is similar to ERP in that it consists of exposure and response prevention. Where CBT differs is its emphasis on cognitive rationalization. In CBT, individuals are encouraged to rationally challenge their obsessive actions or intrusive thoughts.
  • Mindfulness – Mindfulness is the simple, yet often challenging, practice of being fully, non-judgmentally present. It involves acknowledging and accepting the presence of all urges and sensations—pleasant or otherwise. For individuals with OCD struggling with compulsive, spiraling thoughts, the practice of mindfulness can provide an anchor to the moment. Mindfulness challenges the commonly held belief that obsessions are the primary problem, emphasizing instead that it is how a person reacts to obsessions that is more important. Rather than focusing on resisting these thoughts, which can often lead to intensification, mindfulness is a practice that focuses on the choice to engage or to not engage with the compulsion. Simply allowing recognition and acceptance of unwanted thoughts can be hugely beneficial to individuals with OCD, changing an attitude of fear and stress into one of empowerment and composure.
  • Pharmacotherapy — Frequently prescribed medications for those struggling with OCD include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antidepressants, benzodiazepines, etc. These medications are prescribed by a physician and often coupled with psychotherapies such as ERP, CBT, and Mindfulness.

Individuals with OCD face significant obstacles in receiving the mental health support they need. Mental health coaching and AI technology such as Mindboost can mitigate these challenges by making care accessible, affordable, and individualized. At Mindboost, we are proud to offer a broad range of psychological modalities, including ERP, CBT, and Mindfulness-Based Therapy.

To learn more about using Mindboost in a K-12, university, or workplace setting, contact our team to schedule a free demo today.

Works Cited

  1. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (2015, June 15). Clinical Practice Review for OCD. Retrieved from adaa.org: https://adaa.org/resources-professionals/practice-guidelines-ocd
  2. Ruscio, A., Stein, D., Chiu, W., & Kessler. (2010). The Epidemiology of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Mol Psychiatry, 15(1), 53-63.