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Does Your OCD Feel Like A Bully Who Won’t Leave You Alone?

Are you often plagued by doubt and worry that you might have done something terrible? Do upsetting and anxiety-provoking thoughts or impulses enter your mind seemingly out of nowhere? To quiet your mind and alleviate stress, are you compelled to engage in behaviors that often become repetitive and time-consuming?

When intrusive thoughts invade your mind, they may seem completely foreign to who you are. It’s as if a bully has taken over and you’re no longer in control. Perhaps you have violent images of harming others or fixate on the idea that germs and viruses will make you sick. As a result, you might avoid being around others or feel compelled to wash your hands repeatedly.

Or maybe you are preoccupied with symmetry and order and obsess over everything being “just right.” Instead of enjoying doing what you love, you might spend hours checking and re-checking, counting, putting things in order, or making endless lists in your mind.

You May Feel Misunderstood

Compulsions can be very time-consuming, making you more likely to be late, lose sleep, and miss out on the people and activities you value most. Although giving in to them offers some temporary relief from the anxiety the intrusive thoughts cause, acting on the compulsion reinforces the behavior, causing a relentless loop that keeps you stuck.

Maybe you’re embarrassed about your OCD and tend to isolate yourself from others. However, when your behaviors are noticed, they may be met with frustration, confusion, and misunderstanding. 

If Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is robbing you of the life you want, therapy can help. Using Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP), an evidence-based treatment for OCD, you can manage your symptoms and reduce the fear and anxiety that underlies your thoughts and compulsions.  

OCD Can Be Initially Triggered By Stressful Situations 

The International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) estimates that “1 in 100 adults in the United States currently have OCD.” [1] Although it can develop at any time, OCD most commonly starts sometime between late childhood and early adulthood. In addition to underlying genetic factors, it is believed environmental stressors—such as a difficult life transition or a traumatic experience—can trigger OCD. 

Resisting Our Compulsions Is Hard To Do

With OCD, the intrusive thoughts and compulsions we experience are very powerful. Resisting our compulsions can feel scary because we fear something bad will happen if we don’t give in to them. Even though intellectually, we may realize these thoughts are irrational when they trigger the fight-or-flight response, they can still feel like life or death. What’s more, when we experience dark thoughts like harming others, it can lead to negative beliefs about ourselves. 

Most frustrating of all, trying to ignore our intrusive thoughts causes more anxiety and stress. And if we don’t realize that what we’re experiencing is OCD and mistake it for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or social anxiety, we can unwittingly worsen our symptoms.

Unfortunately, the term “OCD” has been misappropriated by popular culture. Without a true understanding of what it means to suffer from relentless obsessions and compulsions, people who are merely detail-oriented may identify themselves as having OCD. Social media posts that feature an organized bookshelf and quip “I’m so OCD” make light of the mental distress, isolation, and shame associated with this disorder. For those of us who live with it, this kind of dismissive misunderstanding makes us feel diminished.

As counselors who specialize in treating children and adults with OCD, we understand how difficult living with it can be. Luckily, OCD therapy can help you take back control of your life.

Therapy Can Help You Manage OCD Thoughts And Behaviors

Living with constant doubt and uncertainty can be exhausting and make you feel hopeless. Fortunately, we specialize in Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), a subtype of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that is considered the gold standard for OCD treatment. [2] Even if you’ve tried therapy before without success or you’re having a flare-up, ERP can help.

Our therapists take a collaborative, evidence-based approach to treating OCD. We will work together with you to understand and normalize your symptoms, help you separate yourself from the disorder, and show you how to boss back your OCD, thereby taking away its control. 

What To Expect In Sessions

After thoroughly assessing your symptoms, we typically create a hierarchy of your fears from lowest to highest. We then work on exposure exercises together in sessions as well as assign them for practice in between sessions. Depending on what works best for you, exposure exercises can be in real life, imagined, or virtual reality (VR) situations. For VR, we can simulate different environments—like driving, flying, or a medical office—to optimize exposure.

The goal of OCD counseling is to learn how to be okay with anxiety and uncertainty. Building up a tolerance for anxiety-inducing thoughts without engaging in the compulsions they trigger allows you to gradually break free from the OCD loop. Even though you will feel anxious when you don’t give in to your compulsion at first, you’ll realize that the worst-case outcome you imagined won’t happen, and that you can handle the uncertainty that it could happen. Not only can you decrease obsessions and compulsions and learn to live with lingering thoughts or urges, but you can also develop strategies to manage OCD symptoms should they return.

How Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy For OCD Works

ERP focuses on summoning intrusive thoughts while refraining from acting on compulsive behaviors. Although this may sound absurd, scary, and counterintuitive, the idea is to trick your brain and demonstrate that you don’t have to listen to it. Utilizing ERP, you will target specific obsessions and compulsions. If or when OCD changes themes—as it often does—it no longer has to impede your life. You will have the tools you need to keep it at bay.

In addition to ERP, we may incorporate strategies from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which can help you identify what you value most and discover how to live in alignment with your values. We will also teach mindfulness skills, grounding exercises to address anxiety symptoms, and cognitive defusion exercises to help you separate yourself from intrusive thoughts.

While OCD can seem insurmountable, there is hope. We have seen, both in our practice and through research, that it’s possible to break free from endless obsessions and compulsions. You can learn to accept OCD without letting it interfere with your goals and values. With ERP therapy, you show OCD that you are the boss. 

But You May Wonder Whether OCD Therapy Is Right For You…

Will ERP therapy for OCD make me more anxious than I already am?

Exposure therapy can sound counterintuitive because it means bringing on your obsessions to overcome them. The problem is that when we try not to think about something, we think about it more. For example, what happens when you read, “Don’t think about a pink elephant?” Exposure therapy will show OCD that you are in control and desensitize you to your obsessions while also teaching you how to tolerate anxiety. ERP has also been shown to decrease anxiety and the frequency of intrusive thoughts over time. [2]

Can’t I just take medication as treatment for my OCD?

The gold standard treatment for OCD is a combination of medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), especially Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). We often recommend that our clients consult a psychiatrist to see if medication can be useful. If so, we will work collaboratively with your psychiatrist to continuously assess your progress and treatment plan. Many of our clients find that the combination of medication and therapy is helpful, and some find therapy alone works great.

My child has OCD and I don’t know how to help.

Treating OCD in children is a team effort. For childhood OCD treatment, we actively involve you, the parent, so you can learn how to respond to your child’s anxiety and OCD behaviors in the most helpful way for them. You know your child best, and we want to hear from you throughout their OCD treatment to ensure your child is making progress. Since we can’t be with your child round the clock, we will enlist your help with exposure exercises. And if you need more support, we offer individual therapy and parent coaching services as well.

Managing Your OCD Allows You To Take Back Control

Working with a therapist trained in treating OCD can make all the difference. To find out more about OCD treatment with MindWell NYC, you can call 646-809-5440 ext. 1, email, or visit our consultation page to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.

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