Helping OCD sufferers

Posted by Phil Cardenas on Feb 01, 2012

by Janet Singer

How Do We Help Those We Love?

As Valentine’s Day approaches, many of our thoughts turn to celebrating love. But what about those of us whose loved ones are suffering? How we can we help our spouses, parents, children, or friends who are struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

When Someone You Love Has OCD  gives practical suggestions for helping loved ones. First and foremost, we need to learn all we can about OCD. Knowledge is power, and the more we understand this often confusing disorder, the better position we will be in to help those we care about.

But nothing about OCD is that simple. Just because we know the right things to do, the right ways to act, and the right treatments to pursue, that does not always mean our loved ones will now be on the road to recovery. OCD is an insidious disorder that does whatever it can to undermine the sufferer’s desire to get well.

OCD recovery avoidance

For example, recovery avoidance is not unusual in those with OCD, and can be deeply frustrating for family and friends who desperately want their loved one to get well. One of the common reasons why those with OCD avoid recovery is fear: fear of disrupting their “safe” world of rituals and compulsions, fear of getting better, fear of not knowing how to live without OCD. It is extremely difficult for those of us who do not have OCD to understand this fear. Even though it may not be based on reality, the fear itself is nonetheless very real and intense.

Enabling OCD

Another issue that often surfaces when dealing with OCD is enabling. When we participate at all in the rituals dictated by OCD, we are accommodating and enabling the sufferer.  Reassuring, altering family plans, and even changing our own behaviors are all examples of classic enabling. While we may help reduce our loved one’s anxiety in the short-term, we are actually prolonging the vicious cycle of OCD.

So now that we know enabling is hurting, not helping, those with OCD, we can just stop, right? Again, it’s not that easy.  As a parent, it was often difficult not to accommodate my son Dan. After all, it made him feel better (albeit temporarily) and not accommodating him caused him great distress. It can be heartbreaking to be the source of suffering for your child, or any family member for that matter, even if you know “it’s for the best.”  And sometimes it’s hard to even know when we might be enabling our loved ones. OCD is very sneaky, and I have no doubt that we inadvertently accommodated Dan many times.

But my message here is not one of gloom and doom. Yes, fighting OCD is hard, for the sufferers and those who care about them. There will be obstacles along the way. But the bottom line is that this disorder can be defeated. My son Dan went from barely being able to function to being a senior in college, living life to the fullest. OCD, no matter how severe, is absolutely treatable.

So again, what can we do to help those we love who are suffering from OCD? When we’ve learned all we can about the disorder, and we’ve stopped enabling, and we’ve dealt with recovery avoidance, what else is left?

Lots. For one thing, we can’t let OCD take the joy out of our lives. That would be letting it win. I think we need to make an effort to live our lives in a happy, productive, manner.  Being around those who are enjoying life can be a strong incentive to get well. In my family’s case, humor has always been a big part of our lives, and it was amazing to me that even throughout his darkest days, Dan could still laugh, and for a moment all would be well.

Conquering OCD

Another way we can help our family members or friends conquer OCD is by never giving up on them. Help them advocate for their rights in school, college, and the workplace. If you come across doctors or therapists who tell you that your loved one is not treatable, or will never get well, find another therapist or doctor. Make sure you deal with professionals who specialize in OCD. If recovery avoidance is an issue, let your loved ones know you are always there for them and want them to get well. Maybe they will agree to attend a support group, if not therapy.

And remember that while it is okay to feel angry, annoyed and overwhelmed when the going gets rough, these feelings should be directed toward the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and not the person you care about. OCD is not your loved one’s fault and we need to always remember that. But the most important thing to remember, in my opinion, is that as insurmountable as OCD may seem at times, recovery is possible.  There is always hope for all those who suffer from OCD.

Recovering from OCD – getting Beyond OCD – is the mission of Beyond OCD, the world’s leading resource center for coping information, OCD treatment options, and assistance for sufferers, families and friends, educators, the media, and mental health professionals. Obsessive compulsive disorder is treatable if sufferers and those in their circle take proper actions, and Beyond OCD is dedicated to seeing that happen.

Janet Singer, an advocate for OCD awareness, is published regularly on various mental health web sites. She explores all topics related to OCD and shares what helped and what hurt in her son Dan’s recovery from this devastating disorder.  While there were many lessons learned along the way, Janet feels the most powerful one of all is that there is always hope. She is committed to getting the word out that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. You can read more about Dan’s story and follow her personal blog at: Janet uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy.


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