Therapy Won’t Cure OCD, but That Doesn’t Mean It Won’t Help

3 min read
Keara Valentine
By Keara Valentine

If you’re considering therapy for your obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you might be wondering whether it will cure your condition. In this article, we’ll talk about what you need to know about how therapy can help your OCD.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic condition. This means it won’t fix itself and is generally not cured completely. The good news is that in the past half a century, treatment for OCD has progressed to the point where it can significantly help manage your condition.

While there isn’t yet a cure, therapy can help manage your obsessions and compulsions so that they don’t interfere with your daily life. Many people can experience complete remission of symptoms. For others, treatment will reduce their symptoms and make their condition more manageable. Because OCD is chronic, there is always a chance of symptoms returning, but with proper treatment and management, a person will be in a good place to prevent this. 

What can I expect from therapy?

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the gold standard for treatment of OCD because it specifically targets a person’s obsessions and compulsions.

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In fact, ERP therapy has been found to help about 80% of patients, and most people experience results within 12-20 sessions

The idea behind ERP is that repeated exposure to obsessive thoughts without engaging in compulsions is the best way to treat OCD. When you continually engage in the compulsions, it only strengthens your need to engage them via negative reinforcement. On the other hand, when you prevent yourself from engaging in your compulsions, you teach yourself a new way to respond, test your feared predictions to create new learning, and will very likely experience a noticeable reduction in your anxiety. 

There are many different types of therapy, but many do not target the source of OCD and are therefore not likely to be effective. For example, talking with a therapist about why there’s no logical reason to fear getting sick from touching a doorknob will not help someone with contamination OCD overcome their obsessions and compulsions in the long term. This can be frustrating for someone experiencing OCD and looking for relief.

In fact, the intrusive thoughts people with OCD experience cannot be cured by providing rationalizations for why they are untrue. Notably, reassurance-seeking is a very common compulsion for people suffering from OCD. Though it can offer temporary relief, it only strengthens the cycle of obsessions and compulsions long term.

ERP therapy does not try to provide reassurance. An ERP therapist knows that this is a form of compulsion and will only strengthen the cycle of OCD. Instead, the approach is to slowly expose a patient to the source of their fears. 

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As part of ERP therapy, you will track your obsessions and compulsions and make a list of possible ways to face your fears. You’ll work with your therapist to slowly put yourself into situations that bring on your obsessions and the accompanying anxiety or discomfort. Exposures will be mindfully created so that you’re gradually building toward your goal rather than moving too quickly and getting completely overwhelmed. For example, an ERP therapist might encourage you to touch a doorknob if you have fears of getting sick. Instead of reassuring you, they will work with you to better tolerate the uncertainty that comes along with touching the doorknob. The goal might be to touch the doorknob repeatedly without engaging in compulsions such as handwashing or reassurance seeking so that you learn the feared response won’t happen, that you can manage the outcome if it does, and/or that you can handle the distress without compulsing.  

Even though there are many ways people can experience OCD, an ERP therapist will know how to help you build your personalized treatment program. They will teach you how to manage your OCD so you don’t feel stuck trying to battle your stressful thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

If you’re struggling with OCD, there is help available. You don’t have to do it alone. If you’re interested in learning about treatment for OCD, you can schedule a free call with the NOCD clinical team. All of our therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training and ongoing guidance from our clinical leadership team. Many of them have dealt with OCD themselves and understand how crucial ERP therapy is. NOCD offers live face-to-face video therapy sessions with OCD therapists, in addition to ongoing support on the NOCD telehealth app, so that you’re fully supported during the course of your treatment.

Keara Valentine

Keara E. Valentine, Psy.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine in the OCD and Related Disorders Track, where she specializes in the assessment and treatment of OCD and related disorders. Dr. Valentine utilizes behavioral-based therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) with children, adolescents, and adults experiencing anxiety-related disorders.

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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Licensed Therapist, MA

I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Licensed Therapist, LCMHC

When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.

Tamara Harrison

Tamara Harrison

Licensed Therapist, MA

I have personally struggled with OCD and know what it's like to feel controlled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and to also overcome it using the proper therapy. I’ve been a licensed therapist since 2017. I have an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and practice Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. I know by experience how effective ERP is in treating OCD symptoms.

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