Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by persistent, unwanted thoughts, urges, or sensations (obsessions), as well as repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) that an individual feels driven to perform to counteract their obsessions.
OCD affects an estimated 1 in 40 American adults and nearly 1 in every 100 children. It is one of the most debilitating mental health illnesses and is associated with severe impairment and a significant reduction in quality of life.
Conventional treatment for OCD typically includes a combination of medication and therapy.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
ERP is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that involves gradually exposing the individual to the source of their obsession (the trigger) and challenging them to resist the urge to engage in compulsive behavior.
This therapy can be done in a therapist’s office or as part of a home-based program. The goal of ERP is to gradually reduce fear and anxiety associated with the source of the obsession, with the ultimate goal of eliminating or reducing compulsive behavior.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A therapist will work with the individual to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and beliefs and replace them with more accurate and helpful ones.
Medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and anxiolytics may also be prescribed to help keep symptoms of OCD in check.
However, it is worth noting that these medications only provide temporary relief from symptoms, to allow the patient to pursue more long-term treatment options, such as ERP and CBT, without interference.
Along with medication, therapy, and other professional treatments for OCD, there are also several techniques you can use to overcome OCD, including:
- Postpone Ritualizing: When faced with the urge to engage in a compulsion, try to postpone the ritualizing until a specific time later. This will help reduce the sense of urgency and give you more control over the situation.
- Distract Yourself: To cope with obsessions, try to distract yourself with something else (e.g., going for a walk, or listening to music). This can help take your mind off the obsessions and reduce the intensity of the compulsion.
- Challenge Your Thoughts: When obsessions arise, challenge them by putting them into perspective, engaging in problem-solving, or questioning their accuracy. In the end, you will realize that most of your thoughts are irrational or exaggerated and have no consequence whatsoever.
- Change Some Aspect of Your Ritual: For some, changing something small about the ritual (e.g., counting backward, or stopping halfway through) can help break the cycle of compulsive behavior.
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is an excellent tool for dealing with intrusive thoughts, worries, and obsessions. It helps you focus on the present moment and become aware of your thoughts and emotions without feeling overwhelmed.
- Choose Not to Ritualize: Remind yourself that the compulsion is irrational and that you can choose not to act on it. While this may be difficult at first, over time, you will find it easier to resist compulsions and gain more control over your OCD.
OCD can become debilitating, but with the right strategies, it is possible to reduce or overcome compulsions and lead a healthier, happier life. Medication, therapy, self-help strategies, and new treatments such as ketamine infusion therapy offer an effective way to overcome OCD compulsions and reclaim control over your life.