OCD Treatment (ERP & CBT): Exposure & Cognitive Restructuring

OCD Treatment Building Blocks

The most effective treatment for OCD, exposure and response prevention (ERP), is built on a combination of cognitive and behavioral strategies.

Question: To what extent would a change of mindset (e.g., changing my expectations for myself) be helpful in recovering from OCD? What is likely to happen if I delay formal treatment with a psychologist and work instead on changing my own mindset?

OCD Treatment Components: Cognitive Restructuring + Exposures

Regardless of whether or not it occurs in the context of formal psychotherapy, changing your mindset will be a critical component of your recovery. If you do any reading on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you’ll see this referred to as “cognitive restructuring.” Devoting time to challenging and modifying your underlying belief system is essential for fighting OCD, but research on OCD indicates that this process alone will probably be insufficient if it’s not integrated with appropriate exposure-based behavioral strategies (e.g., exposure and response prevention [ERP]).

OCD Treatment Delays

In general, I do not advocate treatment delays. As you get older, OCD tends to become more intractable and intertwined with who you are, making it more difficult to separate yourself from your OCD. Moreover, most people find that their rituals morph and expand over time, if left untreated. Nevertheless, everyone is different with their own unique biology and experience. There is certainly no guarantee that in your particular case, your OCD will get worse over time. However, the prevailing view is that earlier treatment is more effective and staves off later problems. This is why I recommend early treatment for kids, teens, and adolescents with cases of early onset (pediatric) OCD.

OCD Professional Treatment vs. Self-Help Strategies

The best thing you can do for yourself is to combine cognitive techniques (e.g., cognitive restructuring) with the behavioral components of exposure and response prevention (ERP). The basic principles of treatment will be the same whether you are tackling symptoms related to checking, potential danger/disaster, harm, repeating, washing/contamination, or another type of compulsive behavior. There are some good self-help books available to provide general guidance, but these resources typically are not a good substitute for individual therapy conducted by a trained psychologist. You will be most likely to progress quickly if you have an OCD specialist physically present to educate and guide you through early exposures.

For tips on completing ERP exposures, please refer to my earlier post on identifying and resisting subtle rituals, which will help you maximize your treatment gains.

Questions? Comments? Tips for challenging OCD-related cognitions? Share below.

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