Is It Possible to Overcome Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

30 June, 2020
Is it possible to overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder? Discover the answer to this question in this article!

Yes, it is possible to overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD, as it’s more commonly known). We’re here to let you know that there are effective psychological treatments to cope with it.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word “obsession” as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling”.

It’s possible to overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder

Two of our greatest fears are death and madness, as they represent a loss of self-control. This fear of insanity is what leads many patients to deny their obsessions. Or, at least, the severity of their symptoms.

It’s clear that not all obsessive symptoms are the same. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is the most severe level. A person who suffers from this disorder is considerably limited or disabled by their obsessions and compulsions.

Someone washing their hands.

Many people who want to overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder are embarrassed and uncomfortable about it and, for this reason, don’t ask for help. On the other hand, many people who’ve taken the step and asked for help have been disappointed by the results.

Many patients got help from well-meaning health professionals. However, they may have lacked the necessary training to provide valid strategies and tools. These encounters with the health care system often lead to suffering, guilt, discouragement, and distrust. Thus, many people lose hope and confidence in their ability to overcome their obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The truth is that there’s still no medical cure for this condition. However, psychologists have valuable tools at their disposal to overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder. In fact, the most popular and effective treatment is related to cognitive behavioral therapy.

Therapies to overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be very effective to help patients who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Research by Dr. Lewis showed that behavioral therapy generates positive changes in brain activity (Yaryura-Tobias & Neziroglu, 1997b).

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps by providing the necessary tools for a person to manage and master obsessions without giving in to compulsions (behavior that can fuel one’s obsessions). Continued practice and use of the techniques and skills learned in therapy helps to make the symptoms more manageable.

Successful behavioral treatment requires motivation and daily practice. When a specialist applies medication and therapy at the same time, the effects can be enhanced. Medication alters serotonin levels and this is able to stabilize the patient and make therapy more effective.

What’s cognitive behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder based on?

The main techniques for overcoming obsessive-compulsive disorder are exposure and response prevention. The purpose of exposure is to reduce the anxiety and discomfort associated with obsessions by using a process called habituation. This is a natural process that blocks the actual compulsive behavior.

In many cases, specialists do this by using long term exposure to real-life anxiety and, also, to situations evoked by rituals (compulsions). This is called “live” exposure.

For example, a specialist may ask a person to touch an object they’re afraid of, without allowing them to reduce their anxiety through hand washing (in a case of contamination obsession).

Through repeated practice, the patient realizes that the disastrous consequences they feared didn’t happen. They’ll also realize that there’s a point when the anxiety they normally feel begins to diminish naturally. The body, as a result of this treatment, deactivates the warning mechanisms naturally. This is the habituation process.

Ideally, the expert should carry out this exposure in stages. These will be very small steps that lead to the final goal of complete habituation towards the feared object or situation. A specialist will do this by developing a hierarchy of exposure, graduated from least to most intense anxiety experienced.

A therapy session.

The prevention of ritual and cognitive changes

The purpose of the prevention of the ritual is to decrease its frequency. The person has to find alternatives to the compulsion for when those tormenting thoughts arrive.

The cognitive component of cognitive behavioral therapy involves the modification of distorted thoughts and beliefs. However, it should be noted that cognitive therapy is useful when combined with exposure and ritual prevention. On its own, the results we observe aren’t overly conclusive.

As we’ve seen, tools and approaches can help patients overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder. Most interventions are based on exposure and prevention of responses, along with the modification of distorted beliefs or thoughts.