Can Psychotherapy Help With OCD?

The lives of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD can be equally debilitating and exhausting. Driven by a combination of anxiety and other stressors, sufferers are regularly overrun with upsetting or intrusive urges, images, and thoughts.

Even though they often know that repeating certain specific behaviours or actions over and over again are completely unnecessary, they’re simply unable to stop themselves. If they don’t complete their rituals, from compulsively checking that doors are locked, to turning lights off and on multiple times, they experience severe and extreme levels of anxiety.

While obsessive-compulsive behaviours can be overwhelming, thankfully the disorder is usually treatable. Both adults and children who suffer from OCD can get help for their condition through psychotherapy.

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Psychotherapy Treatments For OCD

Someone with severe OCD will often begin their treatment with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. The psychotherapy teaches them new techniques that can help them to overcome their compulsive behaviours, while antidepressants rebalance their levels of serotonin to reduce their obsessive thoughts.

The psychotherapy component of treatment will usually focus on multiple therapies that have been shown to help with changing behaviours, such as CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or, HRT or Habit Reversal Training, and EX/RP or Exposure & Response Prevention. In situations where someone suffers from multiple obsessions, their therapy sessions will usually focus on one of them at a time.

CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is often the foundational therapy which is used to train OCD sufferers to focus on and respond to their negative thoughts differently. Therapy may start with them momentarily delaying their compulsions, and as their therapy progresses, the length of time from their exposure until their response increases. Over time, they become more and more desensitized to each obsession, which decreases their compulsive urges.

By changing their negative thoughts into neutral ones, this evidence-based therapy has been shown to be quite effective at teaching people with OCD to recognise their distorted and unrealistic thoughts and altering their disordered responses to them. Ultimately, CBT can help sufferers of OCD put their obsessions into perspective while helping them develop tools for them to cope with distressing thoughts without resorting back to their compulsions.

HRT – Habit Reversal Training.

Habit Reversal Training or Therapy has been a treatment for mental health conditions or around half a century. This comprehensive and step-based intervention teaches OCD sufferers to be aware of their unconscious and repetitive habits, urges, and movements by practicing their bad habit in the mirror.

They can then become aware of the body sensation as well as the physiological muscle associated with each movement, which allows them to develop an awareness for the urge. Once they can recognize the feeling, they are able to develop an intervention with a competing response which blocks the disorder and provides an alternative way for them to act.

EX/RP – Exposure & Response Prevention

This type of CBT helps OCD sufferers relieve their fear-based symptoms by incrementally confronting their fears. This allows them to learn better coping skills which ultimately help to reduce the high levels of anxiety that is related to that trigger. The more comfortable they become with the Exposure & Response Prevention therapy, the more it can help them better manage their responses whenever the trigger happens.

Physiotherapy for OCD will usually include multiple elements of treatment to help with each different aspect of their compulsions and obsessions. Effective treatment programs may also include holistic therapies like yoga or meditation in conjunction with more conventional therapies.