The OCD ‘Cure’
I spend a lot of time on an online OCD forum, talking to OCD sufferers and doling out advice. From time to time people ask if there is a cure for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or if there ever will be.
I’ve seen numerous people extoll the virtues of healthy eating and taking vitamin supplements in fixing their OCD but I’ve never met anyone in two years whose OCD symptoms improved eating green, leafy vegetables or taking Vitamin D. The same is true for hypnosis. Many people have tried it as an OCD cure, and in fact I’ve seen a website where a hypnotist claims hypnosis cures OCD, but I’ve never met anyone whose OCD symptoms were improved by hypnosis.
Medications are always a hot topic in OCD circles. The problem is that results from medications seem to be very individual. I take two types of meds every day (an SSRI and an anti-psychotic) that have done wonders for me but I’ve talked to many people for whom medications have done little to nothing in helping them with their OCD. It seems for most people that standard OCD meds can help reduce the anxiety they feel. A smaller number of people respond so well to meds that their OCD symptoms (frequency and severity of obsessions and time spent on compulsions) are reduced.
Even the term ‘cure’ is a bit of misnomer. Cure brings with it visions of being entirely symptom free, where there are no intrusive thoughts and no urges to perform useless compulsions. In dealing with hundreds and hundreds of people suffering from OCD I have met fewer than the number of fingers on one hand who feel they are cured of their OCD. It seems the better term than cure is managed. That can mean anything from being able to lead a relatively normal life while still dealing with OCD symptoms to being nearly free of intrusive thoughts and compulsions. My OCD is well managed. I still get intrusive thoughts from time to time but I’m able to quickly identify them and immediately stop myself from performing compulsions.
There is a way to well managed OCD. It is the tried, tested and true treatment known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), with or without medications, and usually with an emphasis on Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).
CBT is a type of therapy that teaches an OCD sufferer to think differently and behave differently. ERP is a type of CBT that emphasizes exposing one’s self to triggers and then practicing not performing compulsions.
Key to CBT and ERP is the reduction and stopping of compulsions. It is the key that drives OCD management. We know that OCD sufferers cannot directly stop intrusive thoughts but they can gain control over their compulsions. Doing so reduces the emphasis on the intrusive thoughts and over time the thoughts tend to weaken, showing up less frequently.
Many studies have been done on how CBT affects OCD symptoms. On average 70 to 80 % of those who engage in CBT, with or without medications, can see a marked improvement in their OCD symptoms. That’s a heck of a success rate.
My experience is that those who do not respond well to CBT continue to perform compulsions. They are either unwilling or unable to stop their compulsions, which is at the core of CBT treatment. Some people find success only after two or three attempts at CBT, sometimes with different qualified therapists.
CBT is worth the effort. It is the gold standard treatment for OCD.
I took CBT/ERP in a group setting and find it to be a wonderful experience. I learned all about OCD and how it works. I learned about cognitive distortions that kept me stuck and how to overcome them. I learned that I had to give up my compulsions to see an improvement. I worked hard to implement CBT in my daily life and, alone with medications, I triumphed over my OCD.
Maybe we should all stop talking about an OCD cure, instead start talking about having our OCD well managed. It’s an achievable goal using tried and tested therapies that have helped thousands upon thousands of sufferers.