Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

How I was finally able to open up about my OCD fears

6 min read
Stacy Quick, LPC

We may have come a long way recently, but there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental illness—it’s an unfortunate truth. It’s seen as a personal weakness, bringing stereotypes and judgment. Many of us are wounded and afraid. We suppress our struggles and suffer in silence, rather than seeking help that could change our lives and the lives of everyone around us.

If help is available, why don’t we seek it? There are many reasons. The one that I hear most frequently is shame—the fear of being judged, the fear of being vulnerable. To seek treatment is to say “I need help.” It is to risk what may feel like everything for a small glimmer of hope. 

We tend to be afraid of the unknown. When you have OCD, these fears are likely amplified: OCD demands certainty at all costs. OCD wants you to be prepared for anything and everything. Treatment is unpredictable, and it can look scary from the outside: What can I say? What if they think I am “crazy”? What if they hospitalize me? What if they call the police and I go to jail? These doubts are so persistent that it often feels safest to avoid sharing with anyone.

I was terrified of sharing my true thoughts and feelings

Having had OCD since my earliest childhood memories, I went many years without treatment. I knew something was wrong but it didn’t have a name for about 20 years. Like many of you, I suspect, I had become skilled at hiding my symptoms. Shame kept me from sharing anything. I heard once that shame is guilt turned inward. OCD did just that: it made me believe that because I had a thought about something, I was just as guilty as if I had actually done it.

One story I tell often is that when I was around 9 or 10 years old, my parents “threatened” to take me to see a psychiatrist. I laugh at it now, having spent years in mental health and having met many wonderful psychiatrists who have helped so many people. But at that age, it was terrifying. I envisioned being taken away by ambulance and locked in a hospital. I thought I would be labeled “crazy.” I wasn’t even sure what it meant; I just knew it was “bad.” My parents meant very well—they just felt lost and confused and, I am sure, at their wits end trying to figure out how to help me.

So what did I do? I buried it so deep that no one would know. I told myself that no one would understand. This was just my lot in life. And I kept doing that for years, until I couldn’t any longer. Ultimately, as with many mental health conditions, there comes a point at which you can no longer run from it. 

After many failed attempts at finding effective treatment—in part because I held back—I found a therapist who gave me hope. It is important to emphasize that this didn’t happen overnight; it took time. It wasn’t as if I met this person and immediately felt at ease sharing my innermost thoughts and worries. I had been hurt in the past by other clinicians. I had been placed on medications that had done more harm than good. I had been in therapy that had confused me and caused even more mental turmoil, because it wasn’t the right treatment for OCD. 

I didn’t want to get my hopes up, only to be let down yet again. But week after week, I kept showing up. My therapist kept showing up. He hung in there with me. We built a rapport. We built trust. It was probably close to a year before I finally opened up and told him my scariest intrusive thoughts.  

The point where treatment–and recovery—really began

Then, the most amazing thing happened. There was no judgment, only compassion. My therapist asked what I thought would happen. When I told him all of the horrors I surely thought would happen, he just looked at me and asked “did they?” Of course, the answer was no. He explained with a clarity I had never experienced that I was suffering from OCD. I had read every book I could get my hands on, I had done the research, and yet what he said to me on that day clicked more than anything else. I was not the sum of my thoughts or feelings. I had a very real illness that caused me to internalize these things, to give them meaning when there was none. 

That was when my OCD treatment truly began. That therapist set up a consultation with a clinician who was experienced in treating OCD so that I could start exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. I started ERP and day by day, my life changed. For me, it took 7.5 years of therapy; for most others, it does not take so long. Two decades of suffering had left me with a lot of work to do.

The truth is that I think many of us have this expectation that if we go to therapy we must follow a certain set of guidelines. The idea that we must tell the therapist everything from day one isn’t really accurate. My most memorable experiences as a therapist usually happen after I have seen someone for a while. I suspect they finally decide that I am a safe person to tell their truth. That’s when we can finally get down to the business at hand. It always takes time and commitment. 

I tell people all the time that I can almost guarantee that no matter what they tell me, I have probably heard it before. As creative as OCD can be, it is also somewhat predictable. It used the same kind of tactics and attacks, and leaves very distinct signs. A therapist who is well-trained in ERP and understands OCD will not judge your experience. They will be filled with compassion for what you have managed to endure. I promise you, they are just waiting for you to be ready. 

ERP helps me maintain my recovery 

For me, ERP has never really ended. Therapy ended a long time ago, but I use the tools I learned daily. When OCD is triggered, I ask myself whether it is something I should formulate an ERP exercise around. Most of the time, it is. What I have learned is that I must be alert and on the lookout for OCD so that I can catch it before it invades again. It hasn’t gone completely away, but I know I can beat it every time before it makes me suffer again. It is so much quieter, and it doesn’t control me or my life. 

My story of victory over OCD is one of many. ERP is the gold standard for OCD treatment and has been found effective for 80% of people with OCD. The majority of patients experience results within 12-25 sessions, far from the years-long saga that brought me to recovery. 

At NOCD, 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. If you or someone you know may be suffering from OCD, you can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.

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