How to talk to your doctor about OCD
You’re sick and tired of your OCD. You’ve reached your breaking point. You can’t go on the way you have been for months/years. The intrusive thoughts that you keep getting over and over are driving you nuts. You really wish you didn’t have to do compulsions repeatedly and you realize deep down doing those compulsions isn’t helping. It’s time to get help. What do you do?
Some OCD sufferers go straight to the top of the mental health help hierarchy and book an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist. Others search around for a therapist who can help them with their OCD. But for most people, perhaps after talking it over with family and friends, the first place to go for help is the family doctor.
How do you talk to your doctor about OCD?
It can be a daunting challenge for some OCD sufferers. They can get caught up in loops of thinking about what they should say, how they should say it, even how much to say. Is it really necessary to describe in detail all the thoughts that are swimming around in their minds or can a more general approach work? Then there are the inevitable what if questions that come up, like what if my doctor doesn’t believe me, what if my doctor thinks I’m crazy or what if my doctor calls the cops about my thoughts?
A doctor is the starting point in seeking treatment. The doctor will not be the one to administer treatment. Rather, the doctor should be seen as a resource — a person who knows what kind of help is available out there and how to get into contact with the right people who will be able to help you. For the most part, going to a doctor is a first step where you can get a referral to specialized mental health treatment. Because of that, you do not have to go into exquisite detail about what is going on with you.
Doctors need to know enough about your problem to make an initial assessment so they can send you to the right person or organization for help. Chances are, before you decide to go to a doctor for help, you’ve done some research into OCD and have a basic understanding of the disorder so you can simply and confidently describe what is going on.
Be forewarned that medical doctors are not experts on OCD. More experienced doctors have dealt with OCD sufferers before so there won’t be any surprises. Overall, doctors have limited knowledge about OCD, likely won’t be able to confidently diagnose you and may not understand all of the varying types of OCD that exist. They will have a basic knowledge of the disorder and that is why you should only need to provide a basic amount of information to the doctor so the next step in getting help can be reached.
A warning to sufferers of sexual obsessions, especially involving children: These types of obsessions are not well known and can be easily mistaken for paraphilias. In fact, there is documented cases where sufferers of POCD (Pedophile OCD) have been met with hostility when they described their symptoms to an untrained doctor. Sufferers have been known to suffer additionally with the authorities being contacted because a doctor believes the sufferer has the potential to harm children.
The golden rule when communicating OCD symptoms is, the farther up the mental health help chain a person is, the more detailed the communication can be. Because medical doctors are at the bottom of the chain, only a basic synopsis of what is going on is needed. You can get into the details when you meet up with a qualified, experienced OCD specialist.
Typical conversations with a doctor would look like:
I have reason to believe I have OCD. I have intrusive thoughts about things being contaminated. I spend a lot of time washing my hands, taking showers and avoiding things I think are contaminated. This is having a big negative impact on my life. I want to do something about it. Can you help me? Where do I need to go to get diagnosed and to access Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
I think I have OCD. I keep getting nasty sexual thoughts that cause me a lot of distress. I think about these thoughts over and over again. I’m having problems concentrating on my work and my relationships with people around me have suffered because I’m always thinking about these nasty thoughts. Who do I go see to get the proper help for this?
That’s it. That’s about as much information that needs to be given to a doctor when you’re initially seeking help for your OCD. It should be enough to get the ball rolling.