When a person experiences OCD their brain is constantly telling them that danger is just around the corner. As a result a person begins to comply with compulsions or experience frequent and distressing obsessions which impact their ability to engage in life (work, school, relationships).One can receive a diagnosis of OCD if they experience either obsessions or compulsions however, often time individuals experience both.
Obsessions represent thoughts, impulses, and images that happen over and over again. The individual feels overwhelmed by these thoughts and often finds it hard to focus on anything else. Frequently experienced obsessions include thoughts and images of harming others, religious obsessions, concerns of physical illness, superstitious thoughts, perfectionism, losing control, unwanted sexual thoughts and impulses, and contamination/germ concerns.
Compulsions are the ritualistic behaviors which must be completed in order feel a small, and usually temporary reduction in an individual’s anxiety. These behaviors can be extremely time consuming and lead to high level of embarrassment when the behaviors are noticed by others. Frequent compulsive behaviors include washing and cleaning, mental compulsions (counting or praying), checking that you did something (turned off the oven), or repeating things multiple times.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective treatment for OCD. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is the strategy used in the behavioral component of CBT. In ERP the client is supported in confronting the obsessions and not acting on the compulsion if one is present. Initially, clients will experience a high level of anxiety but over time this anxiety will drop as the individual realizes that the awful things their mind told them would happen didn’t actually happen or aren’t actually true.
In some cases, medication management may be recommended, and may be just temporary in depending on the specific symptoms, how much these symptoms impact functioning, and how much a person is able to benefit from exposure and response prevention and other therapeutic strategies.
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