Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, has been getting a great deal of attention for some time now (in addition to a general surge in mental health awareness). The demand for efficient OCD treatments has increased accordingly, together with a growing body of research focused on better understanding this mental health condition, as well as how to treat it.
But while the number of available OCD treatments continues to rise, there remains a need to sort through the different options, to make it easier for each individual facing this condition to choose the treatment and expert best suited for them. The following list aims to help with this goal, by breaking down key elements that should be taken into consideration when selecting a mental health practitioner and form of therapy for treating OCD.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental disorder defined by obsessive thoughts, compulsive behavior or a combination of the two. OCD-related thoughts include not just individual thoughts, but also thought patterns, beliefs, ruminations, urges or images. They are experienced as intrusive, extremely unwanted, and can cause a great deal of distress.
The most common OCD-related obsessive thoughts fall into four categories, though many more types exist:
OCD-related behavior normally arises as a coping mechanism used by the individual to try and dispel the adverse feelings caused by OCD-related thoughts. Such behavior can include repeated hand-washing (to ward off the belief that they’ve picked up some contact illness), checking and rechecking they locked the door (so an intruder can’t attack them at night), exhausting themselves with organizing their living space until they feel everything is in the “right” place, or distracting themselves with their phone to avoid focusing on an image of a loved one in danger.
Both OCD-related thoughts and behavior cause the individual experiencing them a great deal of anxiety, and end up feeding into one another, as part of a continuous loop. Symptom severity and frequency can also grow over time, adding to the individual’s frustration and significantly harming their quality of life.
A common source of confusion for individuals with OCD is the public’s, at times, inaccurate perception of this condition: since many OCD symptoms enhance the focus on generally universal themes (such as physical safety, good health and maintaining order), some conflate more subdued concerns regarding these topics with having OCD. That said, many individuals do meet the diagnostic criteria for OCD, with approximately 1.2% of US adults facing this condition.
Together with a better understanding of OCD, it is critical to know what questions you should ask a mental health practitioner when considering whether to begin treatment with them. As such, here are several things to consider when consulting with an OCD professional:
Mental health regulations are important to ensure the practitioner and form of treatment we choose meet professional, evidence-based standards. For this reason, upon meeting a mental health professional, ask them some basic information to ascertain their expertise and how effective their suggested treatment is for OCD:
Several forms of treatment have already been proven to significantly alleviate OCD symptoms. Among them are:
Experience can be just as important as a mental health professional’s educational background. Learning through past and present field work, while remaining under the guidance of established experts, can help professionals develop their expertise and gain essential insights into their chosen field. As such, be sure to ask:
Finding the right treatment or expert for your OCD can be a journey in and of itself, and so it makes sense to ask the people you trust to point you in the right direction. This is where personal recommendations come in handy: consulting with others in your life who have dealt with OCD, or turning to professionals you already trust for a referral can help put you at ease, and connect you with a tried-and-true expert.
For additional points of view, you can also look for online reviews of the professional you are considering seeing. You may also consider joining an in-person or online support group, and soliciting advice or recommendations from peers who have experience with OCD.
As important as experience and success rates are, if the treatment’s setting does not allow you to follow through with it, the treatment itself won’t end up being effective. The treatment setting is made up of several different factors: time, location, and flexibility. For example, in the case of an individual who has developed a behavioral ritual to calm their anxiety over crossing the street, OCD treatment may eventually require exiting the therapy room and accompanying them to an actual crosswalk. For this reason, it is important to establish what the treatment can and cannot include, and to ask the mental health expert you are considering:
A subset of the treatment setting, treatment cost is unique in its focus on the financial exchange that takes place as part of the treatment, which can complicate and add tension to the patient-healthcare provider relationship. However, it is reasonable to prepare yourself by asking:
Mental healthcare is above all, a very intimate process, and one you would ideally go through with someone you feel comfortable with. For this reason, upon meeting the healthcare professional you are considering seeing, ask yourself:
You may have already come across a treatment option that’s beneficial for you, and are looking to incorporate another treatment into your routine. However, since not all forms of therapy are compatible with one another, it is crucial you ask the mental health practitioner you are meeting with:
As mentioned earlier, certain OCD treatment options can cause adverse side effects that may eventually outweigh the benefits received from it. As a result, once you begin a treatment course, it is important for you to stay attuned to the way your mind and body are reacting to it, and ask yourselves:
On a final note, as you look at the different options before you to treat OCD, please take the above factors into consideration, and remember that an adjustment period, or a change of heart, are also valid choices.