Getting the right treatment for OCD can be transformative for many, but deciding to start on your recovery journey is often filled with many individual considerations. Each person’s path is a personal one, shaped by a multitude of factors that can influence their decision. Whether it’s the nature of their OCD symptoms, the support they have, or the resources available, no two journeys are the same.
Still, it’s important to recognize that there is no such thing as the “perfect time” to embark on the path to treatment. If someone is struggling, they shouldn’t hold off on getting the help they need, because undergoing proper and effective treatment for OCD may significantly reduce their symptoms and help them live a more fulfilling life.
Despite this potential impact, there are some recurring themes that we have heard that can prevent individuals from taking that crucial step toward treatment. While each person’s experience is as unique as they are, recognizing these barriers and working to overcome them can help point the way toward a life free from OCD’s grasp.
Here are 6 common fears that keep people from seeking the help they need:
1. What if I don’t really have OCD? What if it’s really something else that is wrong with me?
Many people—regardless of whether they have OCD or not—are afraid to see a doctor or a therapist due to the fear of something being wrong with them. For individuals with OCD, this can be compounded by the belief that they may not really have OCD at all, but rather that something else, or something worse, may be the cause of their intrusive thoughts. They may even experience recurring obsessions about whether they actually have OCD.
OCD is often nicknamed the “doubting disorder” because it can make people doubt anything, even themselves. That’s why it’s so common for people with OCD to worry and ruminate about whether they will actually be diagnosed with OCD. These doubts can threaten OCD treatment and recovery: What if it isn’t OCD? Have I been lying to myself this whole time? Am I using OCD as an excuse? If this is a thought you’ve struggled with, know you’re not alone; this is a very common fear, and it can be overcome.
2. What if I get misdiagnosed?
On the flip side of this coin, some people may worry that while they know they really do have OCD, the therapist may not acknowledge it or recognize it. They may feel helpless and fear their therapist will be unable to understand the symptoms they are experiencing fully. What if I know deep down I have OCD, but the professional that I see says that I don’t, or is dismissive of my worries?
These people are often concerned that they may get misdiagnosed and that they will spend their lives thinking they struggled with one thing when maybe it was something else altogether. Understandably, this can be a terrifying feeling. The idea that you may waste countless hours in the wrong treatment or with an inaccurate diagnosis can be disheartening and can prevent you from starting treatment altogether.
The truth is that OCD is one of the most widely misunderstood mental health conditions out there. The general public tends to think of OCD as nothing more than a personality quirk, or a set of personal characteristics that can benefit one’s life. Unfortunately, it’s also commonly misunderstood and underserved in clinical settings, as well, and many mental health professionals claim that they can treat OCD without actually receiving the specialty training needed to treat OCD effectively. In fact, studies have shown that people with OCD spend an average of 14-17 years with the condition before starting effective treatment.
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As a result, many people with OCD may start to feel hopeless about ever getting better. Sadly, many people who are able to find the courage to try a different provider can wind up in the same spot—working with another clinician who is unsure how to treat them and who can even make their symptoms worse.
This is why it’s so important to understand how to find a therapist who specializes in OCD and who has been effectively trained to treat it. By working with a specialty-trained therapist, you can receive the proper diagnosis and get the help you need.
3. What if my therapist or others judge me? What if they think I’m dangerous or crazy?
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, and many people do not understand mental health, even today. This stigma may lead people to feel isolated and cause them to withdraw from others. Particularly when it comes to OCD—especially taboo themes like POCD or Harm OCD—many people may feel uneasy about reaching out for help.
People struggling with OCD often think harshly of themselves already. They can be self-critical and place high expectations on themselves. They may feel that their negative self-perceptions are accurate and that others must see them in the same light. This may lead them to assume that others will judge them the way they judge themselves.
The idea that those around us may think of us differently or even see us in a negative light can be intimidating. It can take years for someone to finally gain the courage to talk about some of their deepest fears with a therapist, let alone to let others in their lives know about them.
More specifically, the fear of seeming “dangerous,” “crazy,” or “weird” is a common concern for many people struggling with OCD. They worry that if they were to finally talk about the nature of their intrusive thoughts they would be deemed a monster, and this can prevent them from seeking help. They don’t realize just how prevalent these feelings are, and they can feel alone in their pain and suffering.
It’s important to realize that a licensed therapist who is specialty-trained in treating OCD will not only deeply understand the ways that OCD can show up, but they will never judge you for your thoughts or symptoms. Specialists who regularly treat OCD have heard everything and anything you can possibly imagine, including thoughts you may feel are too taboo. They also realize that a thought is just a thought—it is not indicative of your true nature and does not reflect your values.
4. What if I’m already working with a therapist and don’t want to find someone else for OCD treatment?
Some people may be working with a therapist they really enjoy, even staying in treatment for long periods of time with them only because they like them. While therapeutic relationships are very important, it’s critical to ask: Is my therapist truly helping me manage my OCD symptoms?
While other forms of therapy may provide short-term relief or can help with other conditions, it is not likely that they provide long-term relief for OCD. OCD is such a nuanced condition that it requires specialized knowledge that can only come from someone who is an expert—someone who has had extensive training in this area. Being trained in evidence-based treatment is critical.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is considered the gold standard in OCD treatment, and is recommended for people struggling with any subtype. ERP was developed specifically to provide long-term symptom management and relief from OCD, and is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness.
Licensed therapists who truly specialize in OCD are ERP therapy experts and have received the specialty training needed to treat all subtypes of OCD with ERP. When you meet any therapist to seek treatment for OCD, ask them about their ERP training, inquire about how ERP works, or talk with them about potential exposure exercises they might do to help someone with your OCD symptoms. If they are unable to help you understand how ERP breaks the OCD cycle, and they can’t give you concrete examples of how you might do ERP together, it’s unlikely that they will be able to treat you effectively.
5. What if the treatment doesn’t work for me?
It is not uncommon for people suffering with OCD to think that they are the only ones who have these symptoms, or that their thoughts and themes are worse than anyone else’s. What if I’m destined to feel hopeless and helpless forever? What if I am too far gone and can’t be helped now? What if I am “unfixable?”
Though it is true that each person is unique and special, it is important to recognize that this is a trick OCD likes to play: OCD will say that your case is unlike any other experience out there, and that because of this, treatment will not work for you, even if it has worked for others. It may even try tp convince you that it’s too late for you, because too much time has passed or because your OCD symptoms are too severe now. The reality is that it is never too late to get help.
Or, maybe you’ve been through many different courses of therapy and have seen many different professionals in the past, so you feel like trying another therapy won’t help you. What I always say, though, is that maybe this time will be different. OCD will try to tell you that it won’t be, but remember OCD is all about doubt. It doesn’t speak hope—it speaks doubt. The unknown can be daunting, but if you work with a trained OCD specialist, this time really can be different, and there’s evidence to lead you to believe that it will be. But you’ll never know unless you start.
6. What if OCD therapy makes me feel worse?
For someone who has decided to get help and has begun searching for the right treatment path for them, the most terrifying question might be, What if therapy makes me feel worse? This can seem like an unbearable outcome when you are already in the depths of severe mental anguish and suffering, and it can stop you from moving forward with treatment.
Some individuals may be fearful of the very idea of ERP—maybe they have it mischaracterized as nothing beyond a simple “face your fears” treatment. But there is so much more to it than that. These misunderstandings about what ERP actually entails often keep people from getting the help they need. It can be so important to research the treatment, understand how it works, and find a good match with a therapist who is trained in OCD and ERP.
A well-trained OCD specialist will move at the pace that is best for you, helping you gradually face the fears that are holding you back from living the life that you want to live. All the while, you will be a collaborative partner in the treatment process. They will not make you do anything—rather, they are there to guide, support, and motivate you. They will create a manageable, step-by-step plan that’s highly personalized for you and unique to your challenges, desires, and goals. While you may be encouraged to step outside of your comfort zone in order to get better over time, you ultimately remain in charge of your treatment plan.
Taking that first step, despite the fears
OCD is considered a chronic condition, meaning you may have it, to some degree or another, for the rest of your life. The good news, though, is that it is very manageable. You can live in recovery. OCD doesn’t have to control your life.
The decision to move forward with treatment can be life-changing, but it is very normal to be fearful and hesitant. It is also common to worry about all of the above-mentioned scenarios. It is so important that you recognize that OCD will attack the idea of treatment at every angle—it will try to get in your head and make you doubt the very need for treatment, your ability to get better, and whether or not you have OCD.
As a therapist with extensive training in treating OCD myself, I always tell the people I work with that we must learn to distinguish the inner voice of OCD. In other words, we can train our brains to recognize what OCD sounds like and how it speaks to us. This will be an important tool along the way to recovery.
Starting ERP: The treatment choice for OCD
Don’t let these common fears hold you back from living the life you want to live. If you are struggling with OCD and need to work with a licensed therapist with specialty training, there’s no better time than right now. Today, effective treatment with a therapist who truly specializes in OCD is more accessible than ever before.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
At NOCD, we have licensed therapists who can work with therapy members in all 50 states and outside of the US. Every NOCD Therapist has received specialty training in treating OCD with ERP therapy, from clinicians who designed some of the world’s leading OCD treatment programs. If you are struggling with OCD and think you may benefit from ERP therapy, schedule a free 15-minute call to speak to someone on the NOCD Care Team. They can answer all of your questions about starting treatment, getting matched with a qualified, licensed OCD specialist, and more.