Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness defined by obsessive thoughts that you try to control with compulsive behaviors. The cycle of obsessions and compulsions can dominate your life to the point that OCD is one of the 20 leading causes of disability worldwide.
Examples of obsessive thoughts are:
- Fear of germs
- Unwanted thoughts regarding sex, harm, or aggression
- Needing objects to be in a perfect order
The compulsive behaviors people with OCD use to reduce the anxiety created by their obsessive thoughts might include:
- Excessive cleaning
- Ordering things in a certain way
- Counting and checking objects repeatedly
If you can’t control your obsessions and compulsions and spend at least an hour each day on them, and this significantly impacts your quality of life, you may have OCD.
With so much information about OCD swirling around online and in the news, it can be hard to tell fact from fiction. Here are five myths about OCD, busted.
Myth #1: Lots of people are “a little OCD.”
The worst thing society at large does regarding OCD is to use the label in a non-clinical, casual way. All too often, OCD is used to describe personality quirks like being organized, a “neat freak,” or attentive to meticulous detail.
This is harmful for people who are genuinely living with OCD. The disorder can be debilitating and has very little in common with casual uses of the phrase.
Myth #2: OCD rituals are ridiculous and should be easy to break.
A big myth people with OCD have to fight is that it’s easy to stop their compulsive behaviors. Unfortunately, it’s common for those who aren’t affected by mental illness to look at people with obsessive compulsive disorder and think, “That’s easy: Just stop washing your hands or counting!”
Beneath the surface, the struggles of individuals with OCD are very real. Brain scans show that their minds process stronger “error” messages and weaker “stop” signals. “…OCD patients get stuck in a loop of ‘wrongness’ that prevents sufferers from stopping behaviors even if they know they should.”
OCD is a true mental health disorder. Fortunately, your brain is capable of change, which means treatment can be successful.
Myth #3: OCD can only be treated with medication.
Antidepressant medications can be helpful in treating OCD. The medications approved by the FDA to treat it include:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac®)
- Paroxetine (Paxil®)
- Sertraline (Zoloft®)
- Clomipramine (Anafranil™)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
For many people, medications do help. But studies show that psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) is a more effective treatment for OCD than antidepressants.
The main method of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) used to help individuals with OCD is called exposure and response prevention (ERP). It works by:
- Identifying your OCD triggers: Journal your obsessive thoughts and compulsive habits.
- Building a “Fear Ladder”: With your triggers and responses now available, you work with your therapist to rank them from easiest to hardest.
- Climb the ladder: You tackle your “ladder” from the bottom up. Pick the easiest item first, and expose yourself to that obsessive thought while resisting the compulsion.
It’s important to track your progress, so you can look back and see that the treatment is working. This can help build up confidence for the next steps of your “ladder.”
Another helpful treatment that can be combined with ERP is changing or delaying rituals. With this approach, you allow yourself to still have your rituals, but they are changed, shortened, delayed, or slowed down. This causes the compulsive nature of the rituals to slowly decrease.
Myth #4: Any cognitive behavioral therapist can treat OCD.
Because ERP therapy is so specific to OCD treatment, you’ll want to find a therapist with experience in this modality. The International OCD Foundation has an excellent website with details on how to find the right therapist, along with a resource directory to these kinds of health professionals in your area.
Myth #5: Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is not FDA-approved for an anxiety disorder like OCD.
In 2018, the FDA approved transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. It had already approved TMS as a treatment for depression in 2008.
TMS works by reactivating neural pathways in the brain that become dormant in mental illnesses such as major depression. The most attractive parts of TMS treatment are that it’s extremely safe, it’s drug-free, and it does not cause the kinds of side effects often associated with antidepressant medication.
If you’d like to try TMS, HPR Treatment Centers is a nationwide provider with locations in more than 30 cities.
Get Educated to Get Better
OCD is a highly treatable mental disorder. Through talk therapy, you can slowly reduce your obsessive thoughts and control compulsive rituals. With medication and/or TMS, it’s possible to help push your brain’s neuronal pathways away from OCD habits.
If you’re ready to become the master of your thoughts again, contact HPR Treatment Centers at 877-749-8297 to find out if TMS treatment is right for you.