How long does it take to treat OCD with CBT?

Maggie Morrow Award Winning Therapist
Author: Maggie Morrow, Award Winning Psychotherapist, Counsellor & Life Coach
Published on:

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition characterised by intrusive, anxious thoughts and repetitive behaviours or mental acts. It can be incredibly debilitating for those suffering from it, but cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT is considered one of the most effective treatments. CBT involves various techniques which can help patients face their fears and reduce compulsions.

The duration of CBT treatment for OCD can vary substantially depending on the severity of a patient’s symptoms. This blog will discuss the key factors that affect OCD treatment with CBT, an overview of what a typical course of CBT for OCD entails and what goals can be achieved during both active treatment and long-term maintenance.

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Why Is CBT an Effective Treatment for OCD?

CBT offers a powerful toolkit for individuals struggling with OCD. It works by addressing the underlying thought patterns and behaviours that fuel the OCD cycle. Through techniques like cognitive restructuring, individuals learn to identify and challenge unhelpful beliefs associated with their obsessions. Instead of fearing intrusive thoughts, they learn to recognise them as harmless mental events and detach from their urge to control them.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP), a key component of CBT, gradually exposes individuals to feared situations and triggers, while helping them resist the urge to engage in compulsions. ERP teaches us that we can’t always completely remove ourselves from distressing situations or thoughts, but we do have the power to develop coping skills that will help us manage those situations without feeling overwhelmed.

This helps break the fear-avoidance cycle and build resilience to anxiety. CBT empowers individuals with OCD to manage their symptoms effectively, improve their quality of life and regain control over their thoughts and actions. It’s an ongoing process, requiring commitment and practice, but with consistent effort, CBT can offer lasting relief and a brighter future for those living with OCD.

 

Factors That Influence Treatment Duration

There are several key factors that impact how long it takes for CBT to effectively treat OCD symptoms. A primary factor is the severity of the individual’s OCD. Naturally, those with more severe obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals generally require more extensive CBT treatment over a longer period of time. Related conditions like depression or anxiety disorders can also lengthen treatment, as they will need to address multiple symptoms.

The patient’s level of insight into their OCD is also important. Those with poor insight as to why they’re experiencing OCD often take longer to fully engage with CBT techniques. Their motivation and commitment to adhere to CBT treatment and facing anxieties head-on also play a role. Those who practice CBT skills like ERP regularly between sessions tend to see faster reductions in their symptoms.

Finally, whether the patient is receiving medication in conjunction with CBT can impact duration. Certain medications like SSRIs can help augment and accelerate therapeutic gains. Overall, CBT treatment relies heavily on the individual’s OCD profile and how proactively they are able to implement CBT techniques.

On average, the typical duration of CBT treatment for OCD is between 12 and 20 sessions, carried out over the span of 3-4 months. However, the exact length of treatment can vary substantially based on the individual factors discussed above. For those with mild OCD, once-weekly CBT sessions over several months may be sufficient to significantly reduce symptoms. For more severe OCD cases, CBT sessions may be scheduled more than once per week over a longer period of time.

The first several sessions typically focus on education, teaching the patient about OCD and goal setting. Later sessions then aim to conduct regular ERP to feared situations and monitor compulsions.

 

What Happens Post-Treatment?

Once active CBT treatment has ended, maintenance is crucial to sustain benefits over the long term. Patients should continue practising the CBT skills they’ve developed when obsessive thoughts flare up. Sporadic booster CBT sessions throughout the year may be helpful, especially during times of increased stress, to maintain the skills you’ve developed.

However, the ultimate goal of CBT is to provide patients with the tools to independently manage their OCD without regular therapist guidance. This often involves ongoing relaxation practices, stress management, relapse prevention planning, and seeking support if symptoms worsen. With active maintenance, the gains achieved through an initial course of CBT can be maintained over many years, providing long-term relief from debilitating OCD symptoms.

 

Long-Term Effects of Treatment: CBT vs. Psychodynamic Therapy

While CBT has shown great effectiveness in treating OCD, some research suggests its effects might diminish over time. Studies indicate that therapies incorporating psychodynamic elements might offer more lasting benefits.

Psychodynamic approaches explore the unconscious roots of OCD, aiming to understand how past experiences and conflicts might contribute to current obsessions and compulsions. This focus on underlying causes might lead to a deeper shift in a person’s relationship with their OCD, potentially fostering continued improvement even after therapy ends.

By exploring our full range of feelings, including uncomfortable ones, therapists can help us identify the defence mechanisms we use to cope. They guide us in recognising recurring themes in our lives, often rooted in early experiences, that unconsciously impact our relationships and emotional well-being. Consulting a qualified mental health professional can help you explore both options and find the treatment approach that best suits your needs.

 

CBT can be a highly effective treatment for OCD, but the duration of your treatment can vary considerably based on various factors, from the severity of your symptoms to the speed at which you pick up the techniques. More severe cases often require a longer course of treatment, whereas those with milder OCD symptoms might find they can overcome their condition faster.

Whatever the cause of your OCD, it can be helpful to have the guidance and expertise of a trained professional. Contact KlearMinds today to book an appointment with one of our highly skilled therapists.

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