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How To Help Someone Who Has OCD

How To Help Someone Who Has OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be a debilitating disorder. When struggling with OCD an individual’s functioning and quality of life can be impaired.  Living with OCD often means frequent interruptions throughout the day to perform compulsions or ruminate in obsessive thoughts. OCD is not rare. OCD affects approximately 2.5 million people in the United States. When an individual is struggling with OCD loved ones and friends might be unsure around how they can support them. Here are some concrete steps anyone can take to support a loved one with OCD.

Educate Yourself

The first step to support your loved one is by educating yourself. Learning about OCD and how it can impact someone is a great starting point. One of the first things to understand is that there is no singular reason or gene that causes a person to develop OCD. Often, there are a myriad of factors that can contribute to this disorder. Likewise, there is rarely one singular life event that triggers the onset of OCD. Oftentimes, the development of OCD is a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. 

OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are recurring, often negative thoughts that cause a person great anxiety and distress. Obsessions may focus on: 

  • Cleanliness/hygiene
  • Order and symmetry
  • Morality/Religious themes
  •  Harming oneself or others
  • Relationships 
  • Repeated doubts related to safety and catastrophic events (such as “Did I turn the oven off?”, “Is the door locked?” etc.)

In turn, these obsessions cause someone to have the urge, or compulsion, to perform an action that temporarily relieves these worries. As such, someone may perform compulsions such as:

  • Repetitive and excessive actions related to hygiene and cleanliness. 
  • Moving items and engaging in actions until it feels “right”.
  • Checking and rechecking (checking if the door is locked, then rechecking it, etc.).
  • Reassurance seeking around the intrusive thoughts to minimize uncertainty.
  • Mental reviewing and rumination. 

Knowing the different types of obsessions and compulsions your loved one may be dealing with will help you recognize when they may be struggling.

Help support your loved one in managing compulsions vs. supporting their OCD

Oftentimes the family members and friends of an individual struggling with OCD find themselves unintentionally reinforcing the OCD cycle of obsessions and compulsions. While it may be instinctual to provide reassurance or assist in a compulsion to reduce the anxiety of the individual struggling with OCD, this is ultimately not helpful. It not only keeps the individual stuck in the vicious cycle of OCD, but it also increases their anxiety in the long term. When supporting a loved one with OCD we want to validate their emotions without engaging in unhelpful action.

Instead we want to:

  1. Refrain from reassurance. “We discussed that when your OCD tries to seek reassurance I’m not going to respond anymore.”
  2. Make a plan to reduce accommodations in a reasonable and achievable way. 
  3. Help them engage in value-based action and coping skills.
  4. Refrain from trying to utilize logic to rationalize or question the accuracy of intrusive thoughts. 
  5. Be consistent and kind. 

Encourage them to Seek Out Support

If your loved one is struggling with OCD encourage them to find a therapist that specializes in Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). ERP is one of the most researched and effective treatments for anxiety-related disorders, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). ERP is based on the premise that by facing the fear (exposure) they will learn that they can handle the discomfort without engaging in the unhelpful coping strategies (response prevention) that include compulsions/rituals and avoidance.

At The OCD & Anxiety Center, all of our specialists are trained in Exposure and Response Prevention. In therapy, your loved one will learn about the symptoms of OCD, what maintains it, and how to fight it. They will work with their counselor to gradually face fears and resist OCD compulsions. The long-term goal is to help them live a happier, healthier life not dictated by obsessions or compulsions. If you or someone you love is struggling with OCD, don’t be afraid to seek support. Reach out when you are ready to learn more about OCD treatment and how it can help you.  

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