Taking the Plunge: Three Methods of Treating OCD

Treating an obsessive compulsive disorder is not a simple process.

An obsessive compulsive disorder has the capacity to disrupt a person’s day-to-day life to such an extent that they might not be able to work, go to school or maintain healthy relationships.

The sooner that treatment is sought for the disorder, the sooner the compulsion can be unravelled and dealt with, however this is much easier said than done. At the source of each obsessive compulsion is a deep-rooted anxiety. This could be an anxiety based around remaining clean, or it could be a more general anxiety about the threat of death, or illness to a family member or friend. Regardless of the disorder, it’s important that the disorder is not simply lived with. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorders do not tend to ease as time passes, in fact the opposite is true. It’s much more likely that someone will find themselves leaning on their compulsion more as time passes and their anxiety is not properly resolved. Anxiety can be caused by a traumatic childhood experience, or can be built up over many years as a result of an abusive relationship. As these compulsions can often take a long time to set in, they often take a long time to get rid of which is why it’s so important to seek help as soon as possible.

There are three main ways that Obsessive Compulsive Disorders are treated:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This is the most common of all treatments and usually forms the basis of all treatment schedules. At its core CBT involves simply sitting down with a trained therapist in a comfortable environment and talking through the issues that you have. CBT is often extremely challenging for those with OCD, as confronting the reasons why they have formed these compulsions is usually deeply unsettling and requires them to disclose very personal (and usually embarrassing) truths about themselves. CBT is nonetheless an important jumping off point for any treatment process and must be tackled before any other treatment is considered.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP)

ERP is a specific type of cognitive behavioural therapy that focuses on confronting the person with the OCD with the source of their anxiety. For example, if a person has a contamination based compulsion one of their triggers might be a swimming pool and the various items or materials that they relate with them. A trained therapist would therefore focus on slowly introducing the patient to scraps of aquamatic swimming pool covers, swimming trunks and other such items whilst asking them to resist giving in to  their compulsion. This process is called habitation and is always taken at the patient’s own pace.


Although therapists will always try to solve a Compulsive Disorder without the use of medication, in some cases it’s necessary in order to treat the primary or secondary symptoms of the disorder that might be worsening the patient’s case. In cases of hoarding disorders, hoarders will often find that their condition leads them into a depression which could cause them to lean even harder on their compulsion. Antidepressants can help to adjust any mood imbalances, in the same way that beta-blockers can treat the physical symptoms of anxiety and tranquillisers might aid sleep.

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