Family members often participate in a loved one’s OCD rituals because they believe they are helping him or her. Unfortunately, participating in, or accommodating, rituals actually allows or enables compulsions to persist and even become stronger. Therefore, one of the most important ways family members can support a loved one with OCD is by ending their participation in OCD rituals. This can be a difficult process, however.
Family OCD Contracts are like business contracts — everyone must agree on what’s included and then stick with it.
To help family members stop accommodating OCD, cognitive behavior therapists sometimes work with families to develop a written agreement known as a “family contract” or “behavioral contract.” It’s a “roadmap” you follow when you agree to work together as a team to fight OCD. When all members of the family agree upon the specific OCD behaviors they’ll stop accommodating, the chances of reducing symptoms of OCD can dramatically increase.
Developing a Contract
Much like business contracts, the key to developing an effective family contract depends on careful initial planning. When you develop a contract, it is essential that you be very clear in articulating the problems you want to solve and determining a step-by-step approach with a viable time line. If you overlook parts of the problem, take a too-aggressive approach or build a timeline that is too long or short, you likely won’t see the changes you expect. Therefore, it’s very important to first carefully identify the specific situations that trigger your loved one’s OCD symptoms and all of your accommodating behaviors.
Once you have determined how you’ve been accommodating OCD, goals for stopping your accommodations will be developed (one at a time) and written into an OCD family contract. It’s very important that everyone be in agreement about the goals as they are set – you, your loved one, and all other family members. Many therapists prefer to start with goals that are small and easy to attain so success is achieved and confidence in overcoming previously disruptive patterns of behavior has an opportunity to build. In some cases, the clinician may suggest other goals that involve encouraging and supporting your loved one. In addition, the therapist will need to ensure that the accommodation goals are in sync with your loved one’s Exposure and Response Prevention plan.