Plenty of people claim to know the cure for obsessive-compulsive disorder. With a quick search you’ll find stories about yoga, diets, and supplements or medications that all supposedly get rid of your symptoms for good.
While these things can certainly be part of a plan to improve your mental health, there’s no cure for OCD yet. There are plenty of researchers working hard to find one, but the media tends to make much bolder claims than any scientist would. News about scientific research tends to overstate the researchers' conclusions.
What does OCD research do for people right now?
Although new research is always sharpening our understanding of the brain, nobody knows exactly what causes OCD. And there’s no way to create a precise cure when we don’t know a precise cause. It’s exciting to watch a bunch of hypotheses emerge, but it’s also helpful to remember where we are now.
This doesn't mean people can't get better, though. Most researchers and clinicians aren't waiting to find that precise cure. They try a bunch of options, because they know people with OCD shouldn't have to wait. And if something works for a lot of people, researchers can work backwards by trying to understand what's happening in their brains. That's how momentum starts to build around investigational OCD treatments like ketamine.
How can someone get better if there's no cure for OCD?
Most of us understand a cure as something that completely and permanently gets rid of symptoms. A cure for cancer, for example, “eliminates all traces of cancer from the body and ensures it won’t come back.” And we think of mental health conditions in the same way: we’re cured when we find a way to erase the problem completely.
But other people consider themselves cured when their symptoms are so minimal that they don’t impact day-to-day living for a sustained period. They feel a lot better, probably for a few months or more.
Alright, then how can people find relief from OCD symptoms?
We’re always reminding people that exposure and response prevention (ERP) and SRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have the best data behind them for treatment success. In a 2013 study conducted by Dr. Blair Simpson and colleagues, 70% of patients using a combination of ERP and SRIs responded and one third "got well."
So, can OCD be cured? Not yet. But many people do recover to the point where their symptoms are well-managed and far less bothersome. A few NOCD team members can attest to this. Nothing works for everybody, but there are plenty of great options to keep trying.
Still have questions about OCD?
This post was edited by NOCD Clinical Director Stephanie Lonsway, PhD, to ensure clinical accuracy.