Exposure & Response Prevention
The most effective treatments for OCD are Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and/or medication. More specifically, the most effective treatments are a type of CBT called Exposure Response and Prevention, which has the strongest evidence supporting its use in the treatment of OCD, and/or a class of medications called serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SRIs.
Exposure and Response Prevention is typically done by a licensed mental health professional (such as a psychologist, social worker, or mental health counselor) in an outpatient setting. This means you visit your therapist’s office at a set appointment time once or a few times a week.
Medications can only be prescribed by a licensed medical professionals (such as your physician or a psychiatrist), who would ideally work together with your therapist to develop a treatment plan. Taken together, ERP and medication are considered the “first-line" or "Gold Standard" treatment for OCD.
CBT is actually made up of a large group of therapy strategies. The most important strategy in CBT for OCD is called “Exposure and Response Prevention” (ERP). Exposure refers to confronting the thoughts, images, objects and situations that make you anxious. At first glance, this doesn’t sound right. You have probably confronted these things many times only to feel anxious over and over again. It is important to keep in mind that you have to do the second part of the treatment as well – Response Prevention. Once you have come in contact with the things that make you anxious, you make a choice to not do the compulsive behavior. Again, this might not seem correct to you. You may have tried many times to stop compulsive behavior only to see your anxiety skyrocket. The last point is key – you have to continue to make the commitment to not give in and do the compulsive behavior until you notice a drop in your anxiety. In fact, it is best if you stay committed to not doing the compulsive behavior at all. The drop in your anxiety that happens when you stay “exposed” and “prevent” the compulsive “response” is called habituation. This might be a new idea for someone with OCD – that your anxiety will start to decrease if you stay in contact with the things you fear and don’t do the compulsive behavior.
Exposure & Response Prevention
You don't have to learn how to control your thoughts; you just have to stop letting them control you.
Anxiety Canada has a great "Self-Help: Managing your OCD at home" tool which includes OCD worksheets.
If planning to delve into OCD treatment, one must commit. Make sure you are ready. It is not easy, but it is worth it.
If possible, find a psychologist while recovering from OCD. A psychologist is someone you can trust and tell all your thoughts. Yes ALL the thoughts! A psychologist can coach you to become your own therapist so you can learn to manage OCD on your own. Be sure to interview your psychologist. They must be professionally trained in ERP. It's also important to have a good relationship and connection. The aocdf has a list of therapists who are trained with ERP.
Join a support group to meet others going through the same journey. There are several people who live with OCD. Sharing experiences reduces shame that accompanies OCD. Depending on your age, find the right group for you.