Friends must understand that fighting OCD is no easy matter. If your friend is undergoing Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT, it’s important to remember that this form of therapy is hard work. He or she will have to attend therapy sessions and do homework exercises between sessions. And it can be difficult not only for the person who has OCD but also for anyone who cares about him or her.
During CBT, your friend will be facing his or her fears and experiencing increased anxiety levels. It’s normal for him or her to go through many emotional ups and downs: hopefulness and feelings of success at times, as well as frustration, exhaustion, feelings of failure and a desire to give up at other times. And if your friend is on medication, he or she may also experience some unpleasant side effects initially. It’s only natural that you, as a friend, will be affected by this roller coaster of emotions.
Keep in mind that your support is very important in your friend’s fight against OCD. As difficult as it may be at times, try to remain as positive as possible and refrain from scolding or negative remarks. Research has indicated that negative emotions such as criticism and hostility may actually worsen OCD symptoms and interfere with treatment. Also remember to avoid asking your friend “Why don’t you just stop it?” If your friend could just stop the OCD behavior at will, he or she would have been the first one on the face of the earth to have stopped it!
There may be times when your friend is struggling with CBT sessions or homework and may want to give up. You can help by encouraging him or her to persevere with CBT and letting him or her know that you have faith in his or her ability to succeed. Remind your friend how difficult this work is, and always praise him or her for effort – even when he or she isn’t successful.
Some people have found that it’s helpful to use humor, whenever appropriate. In some cases, seeing the humor – if not absurdity – in some of the OCD symptoms may help your friend become more detached from the disorder. It’s extremely important, though, to use your best judgment as to when to use humor. Remember that a situation is funny only if your friend finds it funny, as well. Needless to say, inappropriately laughing at or mocking OCD behavior can be very harmful.
Even after treatment, relapses – or reoccurrences of OCD symptoms – can and do happen. It may be frustrating to you, but it can be downright frightening for your friend. Relapses in people who have been treated successfully for OCD are common, and “booster” sessions of Cognitive Behavior Therapy are a customary part of the treatment and recovery process. You can help your friend by remaining positive, reiterating that many people who’ve been treated for OCD experience relapses and encouraging him or her to seek the necessary help.
You may also want to consider attending a local support group meeting that is open to friends and family members of OCD sufferers (or an online support group) to learn how others in your position have supported their friends with OCD. It’s very possible that people in your group may have had guidance from their loved one’s cognitive behavior therapist and can share their experiences and knowledge with you.
It can be easy for you to become stressed by your friend’s OCD and his or her progress (or lack of progress) during treatment. It’s important to remember that although you can provide your friend much support, you aren’t responsible for his or her recovery. And it’s also important for you to keep up your normal routine and activities with your family, at school, and with your other friends. When you take care of yourself, you’re in a much better position to help your friend.
It’s natural for you to want your friendship to return to normal, and quickly! But if your friend has suffered with OCD for years, it may take some time for him or her to get better. The good news is that the journey to recovery will most likely take much less time than the time OCD has already consumed.