Treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is tailored to meet your particular needs.
Behavior therapy can help you modify and gain control over your behavior. A technique called exposure and response prevention (ERP) is especially helpful in treating symptoms of OCD. With this approach, you are deliberately and voluntarily exposed to feared objects or ideas, either directly or by imagination. Then, with your permission, you are discouraged or prevented from carrying out your typical compulsive behavior.
For example, if you are a compulsive hand washer, you may be asked to touch an object that you believe to be contaminated and then denied the ability to wash for several hours. If the treatment works, you will gradually experience less anxiety from your obsessive thoughts and you will be able to refrain from compulsive behaviors for progressively longer periods of time.
Behavior therapy has been found to have lasting benefits. The best results occur if the following conditions are met:
Most psychiatrists and behavior therapists believe that a combination of behavior therapy (consisting of ERP) and medication is the most effective approach to treating OCD. For example, in a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found that people who took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and participated in ERP had a greater reduction in symptoms, compared to those who took SSRIs and participated in stress management training.
Cognitive therapy helps you change patterns of thinking that are unproductive and harmful. This kind of therapy helps you examine your feelings and separate realistic from unrealistic thoughts or helpful from unhelpful thoughts. Like behavior therapy, cognitive therapy helps you gain a better sense of control over your life.
CBT is a combination of cognitive and behavior therapy. With this type of therapy, you examine your feelings and thought patterns, learn to interpret them in a more realistic way, and apply behavioral strategies.
Examples of therapies used to treat OCD include:
About OCD. International OCD Foundation website. Available at: https://iocdf.org/about-ocd. Accessed June 15, 2016.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114503/Obsessive-compulsive-disorder-OCD. Updated June 13, 2016. Accessed June 15, 2016.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml. Updated January 2016. Accessed June 15, 2016.
4/16/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114503/Obsessive-compulsive-disorder-OCD: Simpson HB, Foa EB, Liebowitz MR, Liebowitz MR, et al. A randomized, controlled trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy for augmenting pharmacotherapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 2008;165(5):621-630.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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