How Does Treatment For OCD Work?


Although most of us will have obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviours at some point in our lives, it does not mean that we all have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is a serious mental health condition that causes a person to get stuck in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions; however, the majority of people who receive treatment feel relief from their symptoms. Therefore, the sooner that treatment is accessed, the better. You may be wondering about what treatment is most effective and how treatment actually works. Read on to find out more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – What Is It?

When a person has obsessive-compulsive disorder, they will experience a cycle of symptoms that can be categorised into obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions are irrational or intrusive thoughts or impulses accompanied by overwhelming, uncomfortable feelings such as disgust, fear, or doubt. Compulsions are recognised as unwanted and compulsive behaviours or acts that are used in an attempt to minimise distress experienced from the obsessions.

There are some individuals who only experience one type of symptom, while others can experience both obsessive and compulsive behaviours.

how does treatment for ocd work
how does treatment for ocd work

What Are OCD Symptoms?

Most people with OCD will experience several common symptoms that can be categorised as either obsessions or compulsions.


We all have worrying or negative thoughts from time to time, maybe about getting sick or of the safety of a loved one. However, a person with OCD will experience these intrusive thoughts frequently on a day-to-day basis which then induces extreme anxiety.

Common obsessions with obsessive-compulsive disorder are:

  • Contamination
  • Losing control
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts
  • Harm


Compulsions are typically the second part of obsessive-compulsive disorder. They are repetitive acts or behaviours that a person uses to try and diminish the obsessions they are experiencing. People with OCD feel like they must engage with these time-consuming acts, which can often affect their day-to-day lives. Some common compulsive rituals are:

  • Washing and cleaning hands repeatedly
  • Collecting or hoarding items
  • Saying certain phrases over and over
  • Repeating actions a certain number of times

Experiencing symptoms of OCD can be distressing but with the right treatment, you are able to feel relief from OCD symptoms.

OCD Treatment Options

Although undergoing obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment isn’t necessarily a cure, it is helpful in keeping your symptoms under control, so they no longer affect your daily life.

There are a range of different treatment options for OCD, and depending on the severity can range from short to long-term intensive treatment.

The two main treatments for OCD are psychotherapy and medications; typically a combination of the two is the most effective in treating OCD.


The most commonly used form of therapy is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is based on a set of core principles that believe our mental health is impacted by unhelpful ways of thinking and patterns of learned unhelpful behaviours.

CBT addresses OCD as a series of deeply ingrained thought processes that encourage a person to respond to situations in unhelpful ways. CBT aims to address these negative thought patterns by exploring their presence and the ways we react to them. Research has found that many people experience an intensity of anxiety and symptoms when starting CBT, this is completely normal and happens because of the confrontation of fearful thoughts or behaviours.

The most effective OCD treatment is a form of therapy called exposure and response prevention (ERP). This involves slowly exposing individuals to the thing that is causing the fear or obsessive actions, for example, dirt, and teaching them ways to not engage in reactive compulsive behaviours.

Exposure and response prevention is carried out by a mental health professional, such as a therapist, in an outpatient setting. The frequency and length of therapy will differ depending on the severity of the OCD treated. Generally, 12 to 20 sessions are required to feel an elevation from symptoms.

The American Psychiatric Association has suggested that booster therapy sessions will be needed for a period of time after your treatment plan has ended. These may be required at specific times throughout your life.

You can have a great influence on how long it takes for you to benefit from receiving therapy. Consistency and commitment to attending therapy sessions and completing homework have been recognised as key factors in how quickly treatment works.

Medications Used to Treat OCD

Certain types of medication can also be prescribed to help relieve symptoms of OCD. They are typically prescribed alongside therapy to help with reducing anxiety and helping control the symptoms.

Antidepressants are the first medications prescribed to treat OCD. A commonly prescribed medication is Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant. Other approved medications can include:

  • Clomipramine
  • Fluoxetine
  • Paroxetine

It is important to be aware that it may take some months for the effects of the medication to show, and there are potential side effects that may be experienced, such as nausea or suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing severe side effects, you should contact your doctor immediately.

When taking antidepressants, it is important to let your doctor know of any other medications that you may be taking as a combination of certain medications could cause a dangerous reaction.

It is important that you do not stop taking any medications without consulting with your doctor beforehand. Abruptly stopping or missing doses can cause withdrawal symptoms and could make OCD symptoms return.

Alternative Treatment Options

If first-line treatment options, a combination of ERP therapy or medications, are not helpful in reducing your OCD symptoms, then do not fear; there are other treatment avenues that can be used to treat severe cases of OCD. Other treatment options that may be offered to treatment-resistant cases are:

Intensive Outpatient

This form of treatment requires people to attend either group or individual therapy at least once a day for several days per week over many weeks. Treatment typically emphasises ERP principles and is helpful in reducing symptoms in people with OCD who are unable to function properly because of the intensity of symptoms.

Deep Brain Stimulation

The FDA has approved deep brain stimulation (DBS) to treat OCD in young people over the age of 18 who have not responded to other forms of treatment. It involves electrodes being placed over certain areas of the brain which then create electrical impulses to help regulate any abnormalities.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

TMS has been found to be effective in treating a range of treatment-resistant mental health conditions. The FDA has approved a device to treat severe OCD in people aged 22 to 68. TMS is a noninvasive procedure that uses a magnetic pulse to stimulate nerve activity in the brain.

OCD treatment can be difficult to navigate by yourself, it takes a lot of commitment, determination, and courage, so it’s important to surround yourself with a strong support network to confide in. Joining a support group is a great way to discuss treatment and offers a strong support network of people who can relate to what you are going through and discuss it with you.


If you believe you have experienced symptoms of OCD, the first step is to arrange a consultation with your doctor. They will either refer you to a mental health professional or give you a psychological evaluation. This includes discussing the feelings, thoughts, and symptoms that are associated with your behaviour.

The American Psychiatric Association published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental disorders (DSM-5), which is used to help determine whether or not someone has OCD. A physical exam may also be given to ensure that there are no other problems that may be causing your symptoms.

Treatment for OCD at The Wave

Being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) at a young age can be challenging. Our programmes are designed by leading adolescent clinicians with extensive experience in providing mental health care for young people and their family members.

Research has found that teenagers and young adults have a higher rate of recovery when receiving treatment that is specifically designed for their particular age group. We are one of a few international programmes that are dedicated to providing specialist treatment to help young adults regain control over their lives and emotions.

When treating OCD in young people, we would recommend long-term residential care in one of our collaborative living environments. Our comprehensive facilities offer a safe space where young people are able to receive support and compassionate care from our expert team whilst working on their personal development.

Our programmes are based on seven core elements that will help equip teens and young adults with the confidence, independence, and a firm foundation to live a happy and healthy life.

These are:

  • Clinical
  • Medical
  • Education
  • Global Citizenship
  • Outside-Inside
  • Experiences
  • Destination Future

It can be worrying when you or a loved one starts experiencing OCD symptoms, but, with the right help and support, you can start on your road to recovery. Contact us today to find out more.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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