The aim of CBT is to provide a person the knowledge and tools so they become their own therapist and work toward recovery from OCD.
Research shows that about 75 per cent of people with OCD can be significantly helped by CBT. This form of treatment has no risks or side effects associated with it. It is the most widely used form of treatment for OCD.
In many cases CBT by itself has been shown to be effective in the treatment of OCD. In other cases CBT in combination with medications has been shown to be effective.
CBT is a combination of Cognitive Therapy (CT) and Behavior Therapy (BT). The cognitive side looks at how we think and the behavior side looks at how we react to what we think. In treatment, people are asked to look at different ways of thinking and how this would affect how they behave.
OCD is typified by obsessions (intrusive, unwanted thoughts that cause distress) and compulsions (rituals, acts, behaviors, mental rituals that are peformed to try and alleviate the distress). People with OCD suffer high anxiety, often because of an overestimation of the perceived level of threat caused by obsessions.
Intrusive thoughts cannot be avoided. In fact the majority of the population has intrusive thoughts. Non-OCD people simply dismiss these thoughts as irrelevant.
The purpose of CBT is not to learn a way to get rid of intrusive thoughts. Rather it is a therapy that helps a person with OCD to modify their thought patterns that cause anxiety and distress and lead to compulsive behaviors.
CBT teaches the OCD sufferer that it is not the thoughts that are the problem. Instead, it is the way the sufferer reacts to the thoughts that is the problem. And this is something that can be changed.
CBT is used to treat a number of psychological problems, including anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, PTSD and social phobia. It is also used in the treatment of eating disorders, addcitions and specific phobias.
OCD sufferers attach meaning to intrusive thoughts. CBT teaches sufferers to let go of the meaning attached to the thoughts. The basic type of meaning attached to intrusive thoguhts is the compulsive behaviors that OCD sufferers perform in response. Activities such as washing, repeating, touching, checking, trying to get a ‘just right’ feeling are compulsions and only serve to reinforce the intrusive thoughts.
In general, OCD sufferers have no power over the intrusive thoughts that cause distress. They do have power over their compulsions and do have the ability to stop them. Doing so results in reducing the reaction to intrusive thoughts and thus reducing their grip on sufferers.
CBT will teach a sufferer to often do the exact opposite of that they have been doing in the past. For instance, a person who avoids other people out of fear of getting sick will be encouraged to get out in public to see what actually happens, thus changing they way they think about given situations and changing their behavior and response to intrusive thoughts about getting sick.
It is common for people trying CBT to not get it quite right the first few times. There will be pitfalls and setbacks along the way. This is normal and should not stop people from continuing to practice CBT techniques. It takes repeated practice and exposures to get it right.