Cognitive Behavior Therapy Offers Hope for OCD Sufferers

Posted by Phil Cardenas on May 30, 2013

For decades, even centuries, millions of people in the US and elsewhere in the world suffered in silence as they endured intrusive thoughts and fears, often subject to ridicule and misunderstanding. As physicians and therapists began to understand their disorder  better, they often turned to medication to treat it to reduce the sufferers’ anxiety.

While anti-anxiety drugs are often prescribed and can be a valuable part of treatment, behavioral therapists today are turning to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) to help sufferers confront their obsessions and put them in a more rational context.

When persistent thoughts and fears intrude upon a person’s life, they cause discomfort and anxiety that can be debilitating. While most people can deal with unsettling thoughts that invade their consciousness, a significant number find them nearly impossible to banish. These obsessions often result in compulsive behavior in an attempt to relieve the unwanted thoughts and fears and accompanying anxiety. The clinical diagnosis for this condition when it takes up an hour or more a day is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. It is a disorder  that affects as many as 7.5 million people in the US alone and accounts for tens of millions of hours of suffering and lost time every year.

For  OCD sufferers,  the relief from doing their compulsions is only temporary and tends to ultimately reinforce the obsession, creating an ever-worsening cycle of behavior. Fortunately, CBT offers a proven way to break the obsessive-compulsive cycle.

CBT  is the treatment of choice for all forms of OCD. It uses Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (ERP) to gradually expose the patient to the thoughts that trigger their anxiety and compulsions, eventually desensitizing them to the triggers. ERP creates anxiety deliberately, but in a controlled environment that helps the patient see that their fears are not as threatening as they thought. As the person learns to respond differently to them, they gain confidence and motivation to continue to fight the fears and the compulsive behaviors they trigger. This is  a process called “habituation” in which patients learn that nothing bad occurs when they stop their compulsive rituals.

The exposure is carefully controlled and monitored by a trained therapist to help the person respond differently, gradually decreasing the intensity and frequency of the obsessive thoughts. Over the course of treatment, symptoms often become mild enough to ignore and may even disappear entirely.

Cognitive Therapy, the second technique involved in CBT, helps an individual identify and modify patterns of thought that cause anxiety, distress or negative behavior.  In other words, CT helps patients understand that the brain is sending “error” messages.  Through Cognitive Therapy, the person learns to recognize these errors and confront the obsessions by responding to them in new ways.

It is important to find a therapist who is trained in Cognitive Behavior Therapy.  The understanding and treatment of OCD is growing rapidly with evolving treatments such as Metacognitive Therapy (MCT), a therapy that focuses on changing perception and reaction to intrusive thoughts and behavior.  Preliminary studies are encouraging, but additional research must be conducted to support it as an effective treatment for OCD.

Beyond OCD is committed to offering OCD sufferers and their loved ones the latest information on the disorder and carefully chosen sources for treatment. To learn more about OCD and its treatment, visit our web site at It’s there to help you get the information you need to get  beyond OCD.


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