When we think of obsessions, oftentimes we associate them with an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on an individual’s mind. For instance, an individual with an obsession with cleanliness may constantly worry about germs, while an individual with an obsession with numbers may have anxiety related to their savings and finances.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a mental health condition marked by recurrent obsessions (Thoughts) and compulsions (Behaviors), refers to these obsessions as intrusive thoughts that result in repetitive, stereotyped, and ritualistic compulsions (Behaviors) that happen as a result of the emerging anxiety related to the particular obsession.

The most common obsessions experienced by individuals with OCD include:

  • fears of contamination,
  • self-harm or harm to others,
  • intrusive, violent images,
  • repeated sexual thoughts, 
  • the need to save things of value, 
  • concerns about sacrilege or morality, 
  • a need for symmetry, 
  • and excessive attention to appearance.

Clinical studies have shown that there are effective treatments for OCD, which include a combination of Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement De-sensitization Re-Processing Therapy (EMDR), Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Training (MBSR), Acceptance Therapy (ACT) alongside medication management. 

Even though there are several lines of treatment, early intervention is critical for achieving the best outcomes for treating this condition. When approaching treatment options, a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacological therapy is considered the best first line of treatment. The psychotherapeutic intervention, if used in combination with EMDR/ERP/CBT/ ACT, provides for a holistic and comprehensive treatment of the condition. What do these treatments involve?

Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are therapies based on the controlled exposure of individuals to stimuli that may cause anxiety. For example, in the case of an individual who continually checks door locks in response to feeling anxious, the therapist will gradually expose them to an anxiety-provoking situation and offer support to avoid the occurrence of the compulsion. 

Along the same line, Eye Movement De-sensitization Re-Processing therapy (EMDR) focuses on supporting your brain’s ability to better process triggers by recalling a traumatic memory while the therapist induces saccadic eye movements in the patient. How does this therapy help? By recalling triggers in a safe environment while using both brain hemispheres, an individual’s nervous system learns to relax rather than follow the impulses that lead to compulsions. EMDR reduces the emotional charge or anxiety of thoughts and fears surrounding an obsession and compulsion.

Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), on the other hand, is a therapy centered on acceptance and mindfulness-based behavioral intervention. The root of this treatment is to provide an individual with better psychological elasticity. In other words, rather than seeking to alter your internal sensations, it focuses on how you respond to them. By being present, aware, and disentangled from their thoughts, an individual would increase and create healthy behavioral patterns that better align with their values. 

In the same vein, when talking about pharmacological therapy, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are acknowledged to be the first-line agents for treatment. These medications are thought to work by augmenting the levels of serotonin in the brain, which ultimately results in a reduction of anxiety.

Integrating some of the above treatments may help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with OCD. It is also critical to actively participate in your care because doing so may enable you to better control your symptoms and, over time, enhance your quality of life.