This question– one of the most common in our in-app community– often comes from people who are concerned about their thoughts but aren't yet sure about getting treatment. Some may be looking for reassurance that they'll improve without treatment, while others are taking a cautious first step toward getting help. So there are really two ways to interpret the question:
1. Does OCD go away on its own (without treatment)?
2. Can people with OCD get better?
Most people probably mean the first option, but we can answer both at once.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic condition. This means it won’t fix itself and is generally not cured completely. So to the first question: OCD does not go away on its own, without treatment.
At first, this seems disheartening: I’m going to deal with this for my entire life? But the good news is that treatment methods developed over the past few decades have made OCD symptoms manageable.
We’re always talking about a type of treatment called exposure and response prevention (ERP) because it has a particularly strong research backing. ERP is similarly effective to the medications prescribed most commonly for OCD: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and clomipramine. There's some evidence that a combination of ERP and one of these medications may be more effective than either option alone.
What can you do if OCD isn’t curable?
For starters, you can always hope that a cure will emerge within our lifetime. There are countless dedicated researchers and clinicians working to discover new treatment methods and refine existing ones and repurpose therapies originally developed for other conditions.
It’s great to keep hoping for a cure and learning about the latest research. But in the meantime, it’s also important to get started with the options available today: ERP and a medication consultation with your PCP or a psychiatrist.
What’s the best someone with OCD can hope for?
Although OCD is generally a chronic condition, you don’t have to feel this bad for the rest of your life. Think of the way your symptoms fluctuate naturally: maybe a certain part of today was extremely hard but there were moments of relief, or you can even remember a whole week last month when you felt pretty decent. Over time, with some hard work and a lot of patience, ERP can help you make changes in your behavior and experience a lot more of these pleasant moments.
Designed to help people face their obsessions and resist compulsions in healthy and productive ways, ERP is most effective when practiced with a therapist who has received specialized training in OCD treatment. They will know what to anticipate when you describe your thoughts and behaviors, and how to build your personalized treatment program. Their expertise is in teaching you how to manage your OCD so you don't feel stuck trying to "get rid of" the unpleasant feelings caused by disturbing thoughts.
This is the same training all of our NOCD Therapists receive. The goal of NOCD is to reduce your OCD symptoms within just a few weeks of live one-on-one video therapy. You'll be welcomed into our supportive peer community, with 24/7 access to personalized self-management tools built by people who have been through OCD and successfully recovered.
Schedule a phone call with a member of the NOCD clinical team to learn more about how a licensed OCD therapist can help you get better. This consultation is free and doesn't take very long—and it could be one of the most important calls you ever make.