What do psychologists do to treat OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the psychological disorders that most limits freedom and damages the quality of life of people.

Fortunately, it is possible to manage your symptoms and learn behavioral patterns that will extinguish this disorder until it does not generate significant problems. If you are interested in knowing how psychologists work when treating OCD, read on .

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What is OCD and what are its symptoms?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a psychological phenomenon described as a psychiatric syndrome in the diagnostic manuals used in Medicine and in Clinical and Health Psychology. It is characterized by loss of control in the face of intrusive thoughts and stereotypical actions that are very difficult to suppress, and that is why it has elements in common with anxiety disorders and tics.

Typically, the elements that allow identifying the presence of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in patients are two, as its name indicates: obsessions, on the one hand, and compulsions, on the other .

Obsessions are fundamentally intrusive images or thoughts, which arise in the person’s consciousness by “catching” their attention focus, and generating a strongly negative emotional response, linked to anxiety. These pieces of imagination can be, for example, the image of a large layer of germs invading our hands and eating them little by little, or a hole opening under our feet.

Compulsions are stereotypical actions that we feel the need to take to make the obsession go away (for the moment) and make us feel relatively good again. These actions can be physical or mental. Furthermore, it is felt that these behaviors must be carried out very carefully so that they “count” as the closing of the obsession, and always in the same order; if it is not done right, it starts again. Examples of frequent compulsions are:

  • Wash your hands repeatedly and always in the same way.
  • Clean a chair by passing a piece of paper through certain places and in a certain order.
  • Scratching certain parts of the body, following a systematized pattern.

Impact on daily life

As a consequence of OCD symptoms, people who suffer from it lose a lot of time every day using it to perform compulsions, they compromise their physical and mental health due to their exposure to highly mechanical routines and stress, and their social life is damaged. For this reason, this is one of the usual reasons why many people come to Cribecca , our psychotherapy center in Seville; It is part of the psychological disorders with which psychotherapists have extensive experience.

On the other hand, in many cases who suffers from it also presents other psychological disorders that overlap with it, since the fact of feeling bad makes us prone to generate added problems that can become chronic.

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What psychologists do to treat OCD

What can be done from the psychologist’s office to treat and combat the symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

One of the most effective strategies is called Exposure and Response Prevention , which consists in untying the anxiety experienced due to the obsession with compulsive behavior. In other words, the patient is trained to deal with this momentary discomfort, tolerating the experience without “giving up” on the need to perform the compulsion.

In this way, the patient experiences how it is possible to endure anxiety without anything bad happening beyond the anxiety itself, and begins to stop seeing the compulsion as an inevitable way out of that situation. As treatment progresses under the supervision of the psychology professional who handles the case, the obsession and compulsion stop reinforcing each other, and this causes the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder to fade away.

On the other hand, it is also often necessary to modify the irrational belief system of each patient. This is so because, on many occasions, the habit of submitting to compulsions can lead people to believe totally or partially that something very bad will happen to them if they do not end the obsession through ritual (compulsion); This is an example of magical or superstitious thinking that reinforces the existence of the disorder and at the same time arises from it.

Thus, psychotherapy sessions also carry out cognitive restructuring focused on the beliefs that feed and maintain OCD. This consists of leading the patient to question these beliefs, to put them to the test and see to what extent they adhere to reality.

Of course, everything we have seen about the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is more complicated than what is summarized here. In reality it is a process that requires the joint work of the psychologist and the patient, and the performance of exercises between sessions by the latter (following the instructions of the psychotherapist). The psychologist’s job is not only to give instructions, but also to literally “train” the person to get rid of OCD little by little, through a transformation of habits and way of thinking.


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