People who are interested in starting OCD treatment often ask us: “Do I need to be diagnosed with OCD in order to start therapy?” The answer is no—you don’t need a prior diagnosis to start exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy for OCD.
People often worry that they will need to see their primary care physician or other provider first in order to be diagnosed with OCD. The unfortunate reality is that most general practitioners have very limited knowledge of what OCD is and what signs to look for when they see you, so you should never depend on receiving any diagnosis before seeking effective care from an OCD specialist.
Like so many others, general practitioners can be easily misled by how OCD is typically portrayed, only viewing it as a cleaning or checking disorder. Especially if you are experiencing OCD symptoms that are less frequently discussed, relying on a prior diagnosis before looking into specialty treatment could result in misdiagnosis.
I am not sure I actually have OCD
OCD is also commonly known as the “doubting disorder”—it sows doubt about anything and everything in a person’s life. As a result, people with OCD will often experience strong, persistent doubts that they have OCD in the first place, keeping them from seeking treatment that could help them get better. They believe that if they aren’t sure if they have OCD, then they shouldn’t look into starting treatment for it.
Though OCD causes rampant doubt, receiving an OCD diagnosis is no different from any other mental health condition or even a physical condition. When you experience certain symptoms, you may research them on Google or consult your doctor. The clinician you consult may agree or disagree with your initial thoughts, but will often send you to someone who specializes in that area in order to help you gain clarity and find effective treatment.
That is why it is so important to see someone who specializes in OCD, who can recognize all of the nuances of this condition. Historically, OCD has been one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions. It has been depicted in a highly misleading light, even in clinical circles, so it is crucial to seek out a licensed therapist who specializes in OCD treatment if you think you may be suffering from OCD—a general talk therapist may miss signs and symptoms that are less obvious.
Having worked in a more generalized mental health setting prior to a more specialized one, I have seen firsthand how difficult it can be for any clinician to accurately diagnose and treat all conditions. That is why professionals pursue specialized training in specific areas: to more effectively recognize and treat that population. I cannot begin to tell you how many people I have worked with who have been misdiagnosed by well-meaning professionals.
I’ve received a different diagnosis. Can I still get OCD treatment?
If you’ve received a different diagnosis or treatment in the past, a number of different things could be true. If you think you were misdiagnosed, you can and should be reassessed. This happens regularly in the mental health field—unfortunately, someone is misdiagnosed and receives the wrong treatment before realizing it. You may also have multiple, or comorbid, conditions, rather than only OCD or another condition. In this case, an OCD specialist can often treat you for various issues together, or find someone with specialized training in all areas that require treatment.
People who want to start OCD treatment or seek an OCD diagnosis are often also seeing another therapist for other issues. It is okay to receive specialized treatment that focuses on one diagnosis while still seeing a general therapist to treat other conditions. Insurance companies often allow this as long as you are being treated for a specific condition. If you have questions or concerns about using multiple sources of treatment at the same time, you can always contact your insurance company directly.
Why is the correct diagnosis important? Isn’t the treatment the same?
Just as with any health condition, targeted and specific treatments are necessary in order to recover from OCD. There are important signs to look for when seeking the correct treatment for OCD, as well as warning signs that you are not receiving the most helpful treatment for OCD.
Many people with OCD mistakenly believe that this is just how life is. They have succumbed to the idea that their quality of life will remain how it has always been. They may have given up hope for anything different. Many find it difficult to work or to do the things that they may have once enjoyed. Often an individual’s life becomes overtaken by their intrusive thoughts, overwhelming anxiety, and compulsions that feel impossible to resist.
What they may not know is that there is hope and that OCD is highly treatable. They do not need to live their life on OCD’s terms. Getting the right treatment can help greatly improve their quality of life and relieve their symptoms and distress. Receiving the correct treatment can allow them to regain the things they value most and live in recovery from OCD.
The first step is being assessed by a specialist
The first step to getting help is an accurate clinical assessment and diagnosis. At NOCD our therapists are trained by some of the world’s experts in OCD. They will provide a comprehensive assessment of your experience and develop a plan to help. A successful ERP therapist will guide, support, and motivate you as you work to recover from OCD. If they find that you do not meet diagnostic criteria for OCD, they will still help assist you in gathering other resources, identifying what you may be experiencing, and finding a path to relief.
If you have any questions about starting ERP therapy or need more information about the treatment, please don’t hesitate to book a free 15-minute call with our care team. On the call, we’ll assist you in either getting started with a licensed therapist at NOCD who has specialty training in OCD and ERP, or connect you to other resources that might be helpful.