OCD is a common mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. If you are suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), counselling and psychotherapy can help you regain control over the obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals that are affecting your life.
An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought/image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind causing feelings of anxiety and unease. A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to do to relieve the unpleasant feelings.
For example, you might find you need to check repeatedly that all your appliances are turned off before you leave your house each day, or you might think that everything around you is covered in germs and the only way to feel better about it, is to wash your hands many times throughout the day.
Some people with OCD can be reluctant to seek help, as they feel embarrassed or ashamed, but the sooner you seek treatment for OCD, the better the prognosis.
Although it is never too late to get help, early treatment can help keep the symptoms of OCD and its disruptions to your daily life, to a minimum.
If you suspect that you might have OCD, a course of psychotherapy treatment can be helpful. If your obsessions and compulsions:
Generally speaking, anywhere between 13 and 20 sessions are typically enough to note dramatic improvements. In some cases, when obsessions are particularly debilitating, you may benefit from taking anti-depressant medication in conjunction with counselling or psychotherapy. Medication is typically administered under the guidance of a doctor and tends to be used in the short-term, if needed.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is shown to be particularly effective in the treatment of OCD. This type of counselling aims to show people that it is not just the thoughts that are the problem; instead, it is also the way that you act upon the thoughts that leads to difficulties. CBT can help you recognise unhelpful thinking and show you how to replace problematic thought patterns with balanced and more positively productive perspectives and behaviours. It may be used in conjunction with other types of therapy for OCD, such as exposure and response prevention.
Because the main focus in CBT therapy for OCD is upon current triggers and how to understand and manage them, at KlearMinds, when useful, we include psychotherapy approaches into the work that can help you address historic aspects of obsessive compulsive disorder, that are not addressed by a CBT approach alone. This means that you don’t just learn how to address current triggers but you also understand their problematic roots. This can lead to a more lasting and comprehensive addressing of OCD, which can powerfully help to prevent future relapses.
Psychotherapy for OCD can take place individually or in a group setting.
These days Counselling for OCD is often a label used to describe a CBT or psychotherapy approach. As with psychotherapy, any counselling approach used will be most effective if it integrates elements of cognitive behavioural therapy into the work.
Exposure and response prevention counselling can also be used to treat OCD. This approach involves repeatedly exposing yourself to your obsession and then denying yourself the ritual compulsive action. For example, you might have to touch something you fear is dirty and then resist the urge to wash your hands afterward. This is something that usually occurs within a therapy session under the guidance of your therapist at first, but you might eventually be instructed to also do this on your own.
At the beginning of therapy, you might be asked to list your rituals and obsessions and then rank each one according to the amount of anxiety it induces (for example, things like shaking hands or using the bathroom for those with a fear of germs). You might start by tackling something that only causes a moderate amount of anxiety and then work your way up to bigger issues. The pace of therapy is always designed to enable you to tackle rituals and obsessions at a manageable pace.
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This page was written by Maggie Morrow (MSc, BSc, Adv Dip, UKCP) and medically reviewed in August 2021.