Curing OCD

Posted by Phil Cardenas on Apr 01, 2012

by Janet Singer

Is OCD Curable?

When sufferers are diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, one of the first questions they might want answered is, “Is it curable?”  This question certainly was at the top of my list when my son Dan was diagnosed with severe OCD five years ago. We received the standard answer: While OCD is not curable, it is highly treatable. At the time, my son was almost completely debilitated by severe OCD, so “treatable” was good enough for me. With the proper therapy, Dan recovered, and his therapist now classifies his OCD as mild.

Defining OCD

The definition of OCD as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV, which is put out by the American Psychiatric Association, includes specific criteria that must be present for the diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder. One of these many criteria includes the following:

The obsessions or compulsions cause marked distress, are time consuming (take more than 1 hour a day), or significantly interfere with the person’s normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning, or usual social activities or relationships.

This does not sound like Dan at all now. He tells us his OCD doesn’t prevent him from doing anything, because he knows how to deal with his disorder. He is also not typically distressed by it. I think that according to this definition, Dan no longer has OCD.  So wouldn’t he be considered cured? 

Of course I’m getting caught up in semantics here, but it’s interesting to think about. There is no doubt that Dan still falls somewhere on the “OCD continuum”; he’s just much lower down on it than he used to be. Many of us have dealt with obsessions and compulsions at some level, and can be placed on that continuum. It doesn’t mean we have OCD, as these thoughts and behaviors don’t really interfere with our lives. That’s where Dan is right now. He still sees a therapist, and he still utilizes Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy. He knows these are things he needs to do to maintain his well-being. But his life is not controlled by obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that’s the most important thing.

Breaking free of OCD

On a recent blog post, I wrote about Dan often talking about wanting his freedom back. I had thought he was referring to leaving the intensive residential program he was at, but he was talking about wanting freedom from OCD. Before his therapy and recovery, every thought and action he had was controlled by his obsessive-compulsive disorder. It was like he was a prisoner in his own mind and body, incapable of breaking free from OCD’s grip.

He has that freedom now. He is able to live his life how he wants to, not how OCD wants him to. He’s in charge. So whether we call it “cured” or “recovered” or something else, the bottom line is that those who are dealing with OCD, no matter how severe, can get to the point where OCD is not calling the shots. The road is long, and the work is hard and ongoing, but I’ve never heard anyone regret investing in treatment for OCD. That’s because the payoff for them is huge: their freedom.

Beyond OCD is a non-profit organization and web site dedicated to freeing people from the devastation of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The organization maintains up-to-date and comprehensive information for OCD sufferers, their families and friends, educators, the media, and mental health professionals.

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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