Misti Nicholson, PsyD
Unfortunately, it often takes people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) many years to receive proper diagnosis and treatment after symptom onset. In fact, due to stigma, embarrassment, lack of public awareness about OCD, financial barriers, and lack of access to a properly trained mental health professional, some estimates suggest that it takes an average of 14-17 years to obtain proper treatment. There are, however, very effective treatments available.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is considered the gold standard, first-line treatment for OCD. ERP is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Exposure therapy involves gradual exposure to anxiety provoking thoughts, images, objects or situations that typically lead to obsessions. Response prevention refers to not engaging in unhelpful coping strategies or compulsive behaviors. Initially, this work will happen with the support and guidance of the therapist; however, your therapist will also teach you how to do ERP independently. Though ERP may seem counter-intuitive, over time people with OCD experience relief from their anxiety and their symptoms of OCD begin to subside.
Finding a well trained therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist is important. Not only is it important to find a treatment provider you feel comfortable talking with, it is also important to make sure he or she is properly trained to treat OCD. When searching for a treatment provider, these are some important things to consider.
Approach to Treatment
While psychotherapy or traditional talk therapy is helpful for people with certain disorders, this insight oriented form of therapy has not been shown to be effective for treating OCD. It will be important to establish treatment with a clinician who provides ERP. If a clinician mentions cognitive behavioral therapy be sure to seek clarification about whether or not they incorporate ERP techniques. It is also important to find a therapist who is willing to leave the office for ERP sessions, which is often an essential component of OCD treatment. In addition to therapy, medication can also be helpful in the treatment of OCD. Try to find a therapist who is open to medication and one who works closely with psychiatrists as well as other treatment providers.
Education and Training
Some clinicians have more experience treating OCD than others. An ideal clinician will have graduated from a CBT graduate program and/or completed a formal CBT internship or fellowship. Also, try to find a therapist who has graduated from the International OCD Foundation’s Behavior Therapy Training Institute (BTTI). You should also aim to find a specialist who works mostly with people experiencing anxiety or OCD.
In interviewing potential therapists be sure to ask about how effective they are in their treatment of OCD as well as how many sessions it usually takes for their patients to begin experiencing improvement. Be cautious of therapists who are not forthcoming or who hesitate to answer these questions.
During the initial appointment, your therapist will conduct a thorough assessment that will include a discussion about your background and history along with your current symptoms and the way in which they are interfering with your life. Your therapist will provide education about OCD and work with you to develop a treatment plan. Everyone is unique and your therapy should be individualized and tailored to best target the symptoms they are experiencing.
Therapy for OCD typically consists of a series of weekly sessions that occur in the office or the environment in which symptoms most interfere (i.e., home, school, community). People with severe OCD symptoms may benefit from intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, or residential treatment. Your therapist or psychiatrist will help you determine the most appropriate level of care.
OCD is very treatable and most people with OCD benefit from exposure and response prevention and/or medication. October 9–15, 2016 is International OCD Awareness Week. For more information about Obsessive Compulsive Disorderor OCD Treatment at Austin Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services please call (512) 246-7225 or email us at [email protected] We are currently accepting new patients at our Round Rock and Austin therapy offices.