Understanding and Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Understanding and Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

As a consequence of the popular association between obsessive-compulsive disorder with organization and cleanliness, mental illness is often seen as a good quality in someone. The result of this is grave, as it diminishes the severity of the disorder and may potentially prevent someone from receiving the treatment they need. Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects approximately 3 million adults and 500 thousand children and teenagers in the United States alone. Symptoms may be noted in children as young as four years old, with the average age of diagnosis being 19 years old. There is no single cause for developing OCD, and it has no cure.

Fortunately, obsessive-compulsive disorder is treatable. Generally, the most common forms of treatment for OCD consist of psychotherapy – individual and group – mindfulness practices, psychiatric attention, or a combination. At Mindful Living Group, you may seek out all forms of treatment from expertly trained and compassionate licensed psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and counselors. The Mindful Living Group team has the experience required to help you overcome your OCD and learn skills for daily management. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Is Not A Cleaning Quirk

At the crux of obsessive-compulsive disorder are intrusive, obsessive thoughts. These obsessions generate severe anxiety and tension. Although anxiety is the driving force behind compulsions and plays a role in obsessive thoughts too, the DSM-V (Diagnostic & Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) and DSM-V-TR (Text Revision) has reclassified OCD from an anxiety disorder into a category of its own, Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. 

OCD typically follows a cyclical pattern. Obsessions can best be explained as unwanted thoughts over which a person’s brain becomes “stuck” focusing (obsessing). The thought is often distressing and brings about severe levels of anxiety and fear. The individual is driven to perform an action (or set of actions) generally in a ritualistic manner to reduce their anxiety levels or as a means of preventing something terrible from occurring. These ritualistic actions are compulsions. Obsessive-compulsive symptom types are unique to each person; however, the five most common types are contamination/mental contamination and cleansing, symmetry and order, intrusive thoughts with mental ritual compulsions, fear of harm, damage, inaccuracy, excessive checking, and hoarding. 

The cycle continues as many people are aware of their actions and often embarrassed by them. The short-lived relief from anxiety is quickly replaced with feelings of guilt and shame, which generally leads to a period of depression, isolation, or both. For some, anxiety may develop around obsessions becoming triggered. Unfortunately, this creates tension or stress and could begin the next cycle. 

The severity and frequency can and will fluctuate throughout a person’s life due to varying stress levels, changes in the environment, treatment methods, and a multitude of external and internal stimuli. The symptom type a person develops tends to remain the same. It is uncommon for someone with a contamination-cleansing type to change into a harm-checking type. However, particular fears or worries can shift within a specific type of symptom. 

The development of obsessive-compulsive disorder has not been pinpointed, but researchers theorize OCD is a complex meld of genetic risk factors with life experiences. Even though a single gene has not been identified as a source, they have discovered a genetic link. The risk of developing obsessive-compulsive disorder increases by 25 percent for individuals with an immediate relative with the condition. 

Taking Back Your Life With Treatment At Mindful Living Group

Diagnosing obsessive-compulsive disorder, unfortunately, cannot be done by a simple test and may take time. When seeking out a diagnosis and treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder – or any mental health disorder or issues – it is critical to visit a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist with experience diagnosing and treating OCD. Receiving a diagnosis may feel like a dead-end road as you are told there is no cure. You may experience a period of grief; this is normal. Be gentle with yourself. A diagnosis is not the end (curable or not). A diagnosis is merely a roadmap for treatment. 

Psychotherapy is often the “first line of defense.” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy (a sub-category of CBT) are the leading forms of psychotherapy in treating OCD. CBT targets the bond between obsessive thoughts and their associated compulsions. In the effort to dissolve this bond, the individual can learn healthy methods to cope with anxiety rather than rituals that keep the OCD cycle in motion. 

Exposure and Response Prevention is a cognitive-behavioral technique. ERP is initially performed with the guidance and support of your therapist or counselor. During ERP, you will expose yourself to stimuli that often trigger your obsessive thoughts and anxiety while refraining from your compulsions. Facing your thoughts and anxiety head-on may sound horrifying, and you have likely attempted to do so before. Agreeing to exposure and response prevention therapy is a significant milestone. What differentiates it from a nonclinical form of confronting your anxiety is your active choice to do so with the commitment to not engage in the compulsive ritual. As you continue to practice this, your anxiety levels will decrease. 

Individual therapy sessions are an excellent place to begin your treatment plan; unfortunately, for disorders such as OCD, there are many benefits it cannot offer. On the other hand, Group therapy can fill in the missing pieces. Participating in group therapy introduces individuals to others who share similar struggles and suffering. People with OCD commonly report feelings of isolation and loneliness in their experiences and life. This may be especially so when the disorder is unmanaged as it often creates disruption and difficulty maintaining relationships. Meeting others gives rise to a close-knit community of support and encouragement. 

Mindfulness practices are no easy task for an individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the reward is well worth it. Mindfulness essentially asks a person to go against everything their mind and body tell them. The practice encourages individuals to remain aware of the present moment – as it is – and accept, without judgment, and allow any thoughts that the mind hatches to pass like clouds in the sky.  

Benefits of Education And Myth-Busting

The fight to end the stigma around mental health has boomed and come a long way over the past decade. However, there is still a ways to go: advocacy, access to resources, treatment, and erasing the stigma requires a solid foundation of knowledge and education. As far as the more prevalent mental disorders go, obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the most misunderstood and stereotyped. 

We have likely all heard or even said the phrase (or a variation); someone or something is “so OCD.” Rather than shedding light on the disorder and discussing how to help others, using “OCD” as an adjective trivializes the illness, fuels the stigma, and dismisses the suffering of those who live with the disorder. 

Education around all mental health disorders increases the chance for those who need treatment to receive it. For those who live with a mental health disorder, more profound knowledge and understanding are beneficial to overall health and wellness. Additionally, they can advocate from an empathetic and personal perspective if they choose. Others are able to gain more clarity and insight into mental health and how it affects people. 

A Fulfilling Life With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Is Possible

Life with obsessive-compulsive disorder may often feel exhausting, as though the condition has a life of its own, seeping into every aspect of your life. Despite the fact that OCD is lifelong and at times might feel as if it controls you, it doesn’t have to. The welcoming, nonjudgmental, experienced psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors with Mindful Living Group are passionate about helping you reclaim power and control over your life. Highly individualized treatment and therapy plans provide you with the skills and coping mechanisms to bridle your OCD.

Contact Mindful Living Group here for more information or to schedule your appointment.