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CBT Therapy as an OCD Treatment: What To Know

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OCD, short for obsessive compulsive disorder, is a chronic and debilitating mental health condition that affects over 7.5 million Americans. It's characterized by a range of symptoms that vary from case to case, but always include obsessions, compulsive behavior, or both.

There are several treatments for CBT available, each with varying levels of evidence and research behind it. One of the most well-studied forms of treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy sessions.

Let's dive into your options for treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder with CBT therapy, and find out if it may be right for you.

CBT for OCD resources on this page:

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

What is cognitive-behavior therapy?

How a CBT Treatment for OCD Works

CBT for OCD in Austin: Williamsburg Therapy Group

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Patients with obsessive compulsive disorder suffer from negative thought processes that are deeply ingrained to the point where they cannot be ignored.

As is the case with most mental health conditions at this point, researchers aren't exactly sure what causes OCD. In general, medical professionals believe a combination of risk factors contribute to the disease's development, including:

  • Genetics
  • Brain physiology
  • Trauma
  • Upbringing
  • Life transitions or major changes in routine and structure

OCD Symptoms: A Guide

Each patient with OCD has differing specific symptoms, but they always fall into one of two categories.

  • Obsessions: Consistent intrusive thoughts and ideas that are very difficult to control.
  • Compulsions: Consistent behavioral rituals or repetitions that patients are extremely drive to perform, despite no logical reason for doing so.

Often, compulsive behaviors arise as a response to obsessive thoughts. Some patients only have compulsions or obsessions, but most have both.

Examples of obsessions include:

  • Feeling as though something bad will happen to you or a loved one
  • Poor self-image
  • Mistrusting your own memory of actions performed (like turning off the stove)
  • Graphic mental images of destructive or unpleasant behavior
  • Hyperfocusing on one event, place, thing, or person

Examples of compulsions include:

  • Checking that the door is locked several times even though you just locked it
  • Over-the-top hygienic practices, like burning your hands from washing them in water that's too hot
  • Texting or calling a specific person way too many times

Often, compulsive behaviors result from obsessive thoughts. If you have intrusive thoughts of your house burning down while you're away, for example, you may be driven to check the burner on your range top several times in a short time.

Obsessing over a specific person - for example, a past romantic partner - may lead to stalking or harassment.OCD Diagram

These symptoms must be addressed because they can be debilitating not only for the patient but for others as well. In some cases, OCD can lead otherwise healthy individuals to severely harm themselves or others.

Even moderate and mild cases can create dysfunction in the patient's life, as obsessive thoughts make them anxious and distressed and compulsive behaviors are both debilitating and serve to reinforce obsessions. OCD is a condition that can certainly get worse over time, so finding treatment sooner rather than later is important.

What is cognitive-behavior therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves restructuring ones thoughts and emotions to be healthier and more productive.

A licensed therapist trains for years to master this technique and ensure maximum results for their patients. That's why CBT can be a very effective treatment for OCD: It's been tested and perfected more than most other forms of therapy.

The steps of CBT typically consist of the following (though your therapist may add ro remove steps depending on what's best for your case):

  • Identifying problems with behaviors and thoughts
  • Building a foundation of self awareness
  • Analyze incorrect, illogical, and negative thoughts
  • Working to change those thoughts to be healthier, safer, and more productive

Your therapist will guide you through these steps in a way that is safe and effective for you.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

How a CBT Treatment for OCD Works

Under the larger umbrella of cognitive therapy, there are several subforms of therapy that are specialized for certain conditions and concerns.

For OCD, experts have developed a form of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy.

Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy for OCD

Exposure and response prevention refers to a specific form of cognitive therapy designed specifically for those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder.

Also called exposure and ritual prevention, this therapy uses many of the same strategies and techniques as CBT, but tailors them to address the obsessions and compulsions that come with having OCD.

The general idea behind exposure and response prevention is that, under the guidance of a trained therapist, patients with OCD can learn to reduce how much obsessions control their behavior.

This process involves safe and gradual exposure to obsessions such that the patient's levels of anxiety and distress around them decreases. It also involves the active prevention of responses (or, compulsions) during sessions, as well as learning coping skills and techniques to reduce responses between sessions.

It's important to note that attempting to give yourself any kind of exposure therapy without guidance by a professional can cause more harm than good.

Is flooding the same as exposure and ritual prevention?

No. Flooding seeks to change the patient's nervous system through the often alarming process of overwhelming them with their obsession.

By contrast, ERP is a slower, more comfortable way to become more accustomed to your obsessions.

Both techniques have their place, and depending on your specific circumstance, your therapist may recommend one or the other. You'll never be forced to participate in any kind of exposure therapy, but when administered by a trusted medical professional, they can be genuinely effective.

CBT for OCD in Austin: Williamsburg Therapy Group

If you are in a crisis state or feel you may be about to harm yourself or others, please call 911.

No matter your symptoms, our team of licensed doctoral-level psychologists is ready to help you find peace of mind and get to a healthier place.

You don't have to do it alone. Feeling better may be closer than you think.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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