Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by intrusive, repetitive thoughts, images, or impulses (obsessions) that lead to compulsive behaviors or mental acts, aimed at reducing the distressing thoughts or preventing a feared outcome (compulsions).
Although OCD can be treated successfully with Exposure and Response Prevention, there are still many misconceptions surrounding its treatment process. We (Ashley and KD) will debunk some of the most common myths about OCD treatment and set the record straight.
MYTH: OCD treatment is about fighting with your brain and internal experience (thoughts, image, and emotions).
TRUTH: OCD treatment is about learning to accept and be open to internal experiences.
OCD treatment is not about fighting or suppressing unwanted thoughts, emotions, or sensations. Instead, it involves learning to accept and tolerate these internal experiences without reacting to them or trying to make them go away. This approach is known as mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and is based on the premise that our thoughts and feelings are not always under our control, but our reactions to them are. By practicing mindfulness and acceptance, people with OCD can develop a new relationship with their internal experiences and reduce their anxiety and distress.
KD' s thoughts: I call this process co-exsistence. It's like having a difficult relative moving into your home indefinitely where you work and live. You don't have to like your relative but you do have to tolerate their presence. Yikes, so coexistence is inevitable.
MYTH: The goal of therapy is to eliminate intrusive thoughts and anxiety, or to “cure” OCD.
TRUTH: The goal of treatment is to learn how to better manage unwanted internal experiences, and how to respond more skillfully when they do come up.
It is a common misconception that OCD treatment aims to get rid of intrusive thoughts and anxiety altogether. In reality, the goal of treatment is to help people learn how to manage and cope with these experiences in a way that reduces their impact on their lives. This involves learning new skills, such as exposure and response prevention (ERP), which helps people gradually confront the situations or stimuli that trigger their obsessions and practice alternative, healthy responses. By doing so, people with OCD learn to face their fears and tolerate uncertainty without resorting to their compulsions, thus reducing anxiety and improving their overall quality of life.
Ashley's thoughts: Everyone, those with OCD and those without, experiences intrusive thoughts.. it's normal! It's how we react to those thoughts that is important.
MYTH: The goal of treatment is to convince your brain that the OCD threat is not dangerous.
TRUTH: The goal of treatment is to show your brain that you can tolerate uncertainty and the accompanying discomfort.
Many people with OCD feel compelled to engage in compulsive behaviors or mental acts because they believe they can prevent a negative outcome or avoid harm. However, this belief is often based on faulty reasoning and unrealistic assumptions. In OCD treatment, the focus is not on convincing the brain that the obsession is not dangerous or will not happen, but on helping the individual develop the confidence and skills to tolerate uncertainty and the discomfort that comes with it. This involves changing their relationship with their thoughts and fears and learning to live with uncertainty without resorting to compulsive behaviors. By doing so, people with OCD can break the cycle of fear and compulsion and regain control over their lives.
KD's thoughts: This process of learning to tolerate uncertainty takes time, but it works on the most extreme OCD sufferers. I often hear this is impossible. And I then say, let's try the ERP process and after several months let's see the results. ERP when done with commitment takes 3-6 months to show significant improvement. If you think this is impossible, go to the IOCDF website and look at the research.
MYTH: You should feel better after therapy.
TRUTH: The aim of OCD treatment is to live better rather than feel better.
OCD treatment is not a quick fix, and the results are not always immediately apparent. It takes time, effort, and commitment to learn new skills and apply them in real-life situations. Furthermore, the goal of treatment is not just to reduce symptoms or anxiety, but to help people with OCD live a more fulfilling life and pursue their values and goals. This involves learning to accept and tolerate discomfort, taking risks, and facing challenges despite uncertainty and anxiety. While feeling better may be a side effect of successful treatment, the primary goal is to help people with OCD live a more meaningful and rewarding life.
Ashley's thoughts: Our goal as OCD therapists is to get you to live the life you want to life! Getting to that goal requires consistent practice of the skills learned in therapy, outside of the therapy room :)
OCD treatment is a challenging but intensely rewarding journey that requires patience, courage, and support. By understanding and dispelling common myths about OCD treatment, people with OCD can be better informed and motivated to seek effective help.
It is essential to remember that OCD treatment is not about fighting or getting rid of unwanted thoughts and sensations, but about learning to live with them in a way that reduces their impact on our lives.
With the right specialized treatment and support from a trained therapist (like Ashley or KD), people with OCD can overcome their fears, regain control over their lives, and live a fulfilling life.