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Does CBT Work for OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an acute mental health disorder that requires medical treatment. But unfortunately, not all treatment strategies are effective for OCD.

OCD is a broad spectrum disorder in which various co-occurring mental health conditions can affect an individual. There are various types of OCDs, such as relationship OCD, contamination OCD, symmetry and ordering OCD, perinatal OCD, postpartum OCD, etc. 

These disorder subtypes require behavioral therapy to help individuals work on their obsessions and compulsions. The best method for treating OCD exposure and response prevention is commonly abbreviated as ERP.

ERP is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). But what is CBT, and is it effective for treating OCD? First, let us look into the best possible therapy treatments for OCD and how it helps cope with OCD and affiliated mental health disorders. 

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT consists of various treatment strategies focused on treating an individual’s thinking and behavioral responses. This type of therapy affects a person’s emotional abilities and responses cyclically.

CBT helps treat various mental health problems, including anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic disorder. The treatment focuses on the individual’s personal experience. 

How Does CBT Work?

During CBT, people learn practical skills for managing their thoughts, ideas, and behavioral responses. During these therapy sessions, an individual has to examine their core beliefs.

CBT also helps a person develop practical skills to cope with their circumstances. The primary goal of CBT is to change one’s behavior and thoughts around a particular trigger.

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder experience various intrusive thoughts and compulsions. These compulsions provide them with temporary relief from their compulsive and obsessive thoughts.

CBT helps them break this cycle of overthinking and compulsions. It focuses on short-term discomfort by facing your fears for long-term recovery. CBT also trains people to avoid giving in to their urges to stop them from reinforcing their obsession and compulsions.

How Long Does CBT Take?

CBT for OCD exclusively depends on the severity of a person’s symptoms. CBT’s standard treatment is about 12 weeks long and consists of one hour-long session per week.

However, CBT’s efficacy depends on the person’s mental health issues and ability to deal with a traumatic history. But the key to long-term recovery is consistent therapy and a person’s willingness to follow a therapist. 

CBT Techniques for OCD

Some common techniques of CBT include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and contraction alongside mental therapy to help a person in relieving anxiety. Here are some common types of CBT for treating OCD. 

Exposure & Response Prevention Therapy (ERP)

Exposure and response prevention therapy, commonly called ERP, is a standard treatment for OCD. This targeted approach helps a person in addressing their compulsions and obsessions.

An ERP therapist does not reassure an individual about their fears. Instead, they try to limit obsessive thoughts by facing them.

For example, if a person has ‘contamination and cleaning’ OCD, they are exposed to dirt until they gradually develop a sense of overcoming their compulsion to repeatedly wash their hands.

Similarly, ERP focuses on facing your thoughts to treat compulsions and obsessions. For example, when a person engages in reassurance, it reinforces their obsession.

Thus, exposing the person with OCD to their stress-inducing obsessions without letting them engage in compulsions is the best method to treat the behavior. This way, a person becomes desensitized to their obsessions and compulsions. 

Components of ERP 

Vivo exposure: This is a real-life exposure where a person is repeatedly made to be present with their feared stimulus for a long time to help them become desensitized to it.

Imaginal exposure: The mental visualization of a person’s feared stimulus and all possible consequences of exposure. 

Response prevention: Making a person refrain from their ritualistic behavior once exposed to their feared stimulus.  

Deep Breathing Exercises

Anxiety often co-occurs with OCD. In that case, it is best to learn deep breathing exercises to calm your mind and body.

All the breathing exercises taught during CBT help you learn how to breathe slowly. In addition, it helps slow down the heart rate, which produces a calming effect. 

Cognitive Restructuring/CBT

Cognitive restructuring focuses on challenging illogical thoughts and thinking patterns. This type of CBT helps a person learn how to replace their irrational thoughts with rational thoughts based on reality.

Irrational ideas often give birth to emotional responses and distress. The cognitive restructuring aims to use facts that can challenge a person’s irrational ideas. 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation allows a person to tighten and release the tension in their body. For example, when a person has anxiety, their body has a fight-or-flight response. This response increases muscle tension.

Training your body to disengage from this behavior helps manage stress, which is a severe symptom of OCD. Thus, stress management in CBT is extremely helpful for people with OCD. 

Is CBT Effective for OCD?

CBT is a proven treatment for OCD as it has helped thousands of people overcome obsessions and compulsions. CBT is also the only proven method for effective OCD treatment.

According to research, 75% of people who seek CBT as a treatment for OCD find that it effectively helps them overcome their disorder. CBT also helps improve OCD symptoms. 

Over time, a person with OCD can learn to work on their thoughts and emotional responses through effective CBT. Moreover, group CBT helps treat co-occurring depression

Risk of CBT

CBT for OCD does not have any particular risks except for one exception: CBT may not be effective for every individual.

Some people with OCD have co-occurring disorders such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, etc. A therapist has to prescribe medications to treat comorbid disorders in these cases. 

Final Words

Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for treating OCD in most cases. However, if a person has co-occurring disorders, CBT can also help them improve their functioning by altering their thought process and emotional responses to feared stimuli. This way, long-term CBT, specifically ERP, can help an individual with OCD in overcoming their obsessions and compulsions.

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