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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for OCD: How Does it Work?

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) says obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD affects 2.2 million adults, which is about 1 percent of the U.S. population. OCD is an anxiety disorder wherein people have obsessions or unwanted, intrusive ideas and urges that trigger distress. The person compulsively resorts to doing repetitive tasks or behaviors to try and ease the distress.

For people with OCD, their thoughts become extremely persistent and intrusive, preventing them from focusing on other matters. These obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming, interfering with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.

Many people with OCD recognize that their thoughts and urges are unreasonable and excessive. But these obsessions can’t be resolved through reasoning or logic. This is why one of the widely used treatments for OCD focuses on changing one’s behavior and mindset, which is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.

CBT uses two science-based techniques: exposure and response prevention (ERP) and cognitive therapy.

Cognitive Therapy

Before the therapist decides what approach to take in treating the OCD, it’s important to understand the underlying meanings and beliefs of the person’s obsessions and compulsions. Cognitive therapy focuses on the meanings and associations a person attaches to different experiences and actions, revealing their deepest fears and anxieties.

During the first few sessions, the therapist will spend time making sense of how a person’s OCD works. This helps both parties understand the factors that contribute to the anxiety disorder, which presents alternative ways of looking at the cause of the obsession.

Exposure Therapy

Next, the therapist will help the person weaken two types of connection: 1) the association between the obsession and feelings of distress, and 2) the association between the repetitive behaviors and relief.

The first connection is weakened through exposure. The therapist will gradually expose you to real-world situations that trigger your obsessive-compulsive tendencies. The important part here is that you do it at your own pace so that you fully grasp the need to dissociate from your obsessions.

Response Prevention

The exposure therapy should be done simultaneously with response prevention. For example, you have an uncontrollable fear of germs in public places. The therapist may ask you to touch the doorknob of a public restroom. If your usual compulsion is to immediately wash your hands after, the therapist will ask you to wait before doing so.

The delay in your response weakens the second connection, which is the association between the compulsion and feelings of relief. In other words, it makes the person with OCD realize that they don’t need to engage in their repetitive actions just to lessen their distress.

Over time, the gradual exposure and delayed response will help you logically process your fears and anxieties, letting you gain better control of your thoughts and behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy should be done by an experienced mental health professional, especially if your OCD is severe. This ensures that the exposure and response prevention therapy is done properly and at your pace.

Manage OCD at the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Health

The Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Health (CCBH) in Westport helps those with obsessive-compulsive disorder deal with their anxiety in a healthy manner. Our team works with you to develop a healthy mindset. By evaluating your specific needs and conditions, we’ll create a cognitive therapy that helps you dissociate from intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

Begin healing with us today. Fill out our contact form or call 1-888-745-3372 to schedule an appointment.