Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a form of anxiety. People who are affected by OCD experience intrusive, unpleasant or alarming thoughts or images, which make them anxious, and then feel they have to carry out particular actions to reduce their anxiety and distress.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a commonly practised therapy, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends it as the most effective way of treating OCD. Chartered Psychologist Maria Carolina Yepes explains what CBT is, and how it could be used to help treat your OCD.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is based on the concept that negative and unrealistic thoughts can cause you distress and result in problems. CBT aims to help you change how you think, feel and behave. It starts with an assessment, in which you and your therapist will identify your difficulties and set goals. CBT is a structured and active therapy, as you will be expected to collect information about your problems and try out new ways of thinking and acting in between sessions.
CBT for OCD aims to change the meaning you give to your intrusive thoughts, and to test out new ways of thinking about them, which will help you change how you react to them. You will be supported to try and face the anxiety of having intrusive thoughts in a gradual way. It is a challenging approach, but it is done in a gradual and supportive way.
Individual CBT sessions usually last 50 minutes on a weekly basis and treatment can last about 10-26 sessions.
Anyone can benefit from CBT, but it is most effective when people are prepared to be actively involved and to carry out the recommended tasks between sessions. It is not recommended for those who only want to have a space to talk about their problems during sessions.
A therapist is qualified to offer CBT for OCD if they are an accredited, chartered or registered member of a recognised professional body, and have completed specific training in CBT. You should also check that the therapist has experience of working with OCD.
CBT is recommended by the NICE guidelines as an effective treatment for OCD. Research has shown that about 75% of people with OCD improve. Some people may continue to experience some OCD symptoms, but can learn to manage them and improve their quality of life. There are times when other issues may be underlying the symptoms of OCD (e.g. trauma or autistic spectrum developmental disorders), therefore the effect of CBT could be reduced. Your therapist should be able to help you identify other sources of help if necessary.