Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

My path to treating OCD began as a teenager

Jan 22, 20246 minute read

We’re incredibly proud of the therapists in the NOCD network. While all of them are trained in delivering evidence-based treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), many have overcome OCD and other mental health issues themselves. We want you to get to know some of the clinicians who have dedicated their lives to helping people end the struggle.

In 2006, when I was 15 years old, I lost my mom suddenly. It hit me very hard, and without realizing it, I started coping in this weird way—by creating all these rituals and repetitive behaviors. I was no stranger to mental health issues as a young person and had been diagnosed with anxiety before my mom passed. But these repetitive patterns and rituals? They were new.

I could see that the trauma of losing her had triggered a need to be perfect, but I had no idea that I was experiencing OCD. It started with obsessions about contamination, followed by disturbing thoughts about harming myself or others and a debilitating hyper-awareness of involuntary bodily sensations or functions, like breathing or blinking.

Despite this incredible distress, I found that I could go through the motions and continue doing the things I’d historically enjoyed doing. But even though I was physically present, mentally, I was living in a nightmare I call “OCD world.” Sleep was the only respite from the distress, and I craved it as my only escape. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to be here anymore.

Do these symptoms sound familiar? Learn how you can overcome them.

We know how overwhelming OCD symptoms can feel—especially when they appear in the wake of a loss or major life change. You’re not on your own, and you can talk to a specialist who has experience treating OCD.

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Realizing I needed help

When you start thinking those types of thoughts, seeking professional help becomes a matter of life and death, and, thankfully, seeking help is what I did. I saw several psychiatrists and psychotherapists, in fact—all of whom managed to incorrectly diagnose me with something other than OCD.

Unfortunately, approaches that can be effective for treating other mental disorders are almost always ineffective at treating OCD and can even make your OCD symptoms worse—particularly if these other approaches require you to seek meaning in relentless, intrusive thoughts that have no meaning. Ironically, the therapy I was hoping would save my life was hurting me, not helping me.

The time I spent at an inpatient facility did prove to be a crucial step on my recovery journey, however—not because of the treatment these doctors prescribed for whatever they mistakenly thought I had, but because I just happened to pick up a pamphlet about OCD while I was there.

The pamphlet defined obsessions and compulsions and clearly explained the relationship between them. It didn’t only focus on better-known OCD themes like contamination or order but mentioned themes around harm—something I was all too familiar with. But despite this pamphlet leading to my OCD diagnosis soon after, I still didn’t have access to proper treatment, and my distress continued for years.

Discovering NOCD, discovering hope

It wasn’t until a bout of desperate Googling brought me to an article on NOCD’s website just a few years ago that my recovery journey began. The article was empathetic and insightful and gave me hope that I could get better. Pretty soon, NOCD’s content library—which was much smaller than it is now—had become a hugely important resource for me. Each article ended with information about getting treatment from NOCD and a mention of how I could learn more with a free, 15-minute phone call with someone from their Care Team.

In addition to answering a handful of questions I had about how treatment worked, the Care Team representative I spoke with also addressed my concern that my insurance wouldn’t cover treatment. It did, and in a very short time, I found myself talking with an extremely knowledgeable therapist who made it abundantly clear that she understood everything I’d been experiencing.

Within a couple of sessions of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy—the gold standard treatment for OCD— my recovery journey was well underway. Was my OCD still scary? Yes. Was ERP challenging? Absolutely. But for the first time, I wasn’t challenging the random, unwanted, intrusive thoughts in my head, but was working toward seeing them as entirely separate from myself.

Finding a sense of purpose

While all this was happening, I was working toward becoming a licensed clinical social worker, though I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with that certification. I just happened to mention to my therapist how cool it would be to help people with the condition. She looked me in the eye and said, “Well, why don’t you?”

That encouragement led to me taking a massive leap of faith. I decided that I would help people afflicted with the same condition that had robbed me of so much of my focus. It isn’t easy to express just how rewarding that decision has been.

Many truly excellent, effective, and empathetic therapists at NOCD do not have OCD themselves. Still, I’ve found that my experience informs how I work with people. Spreading awareness about a condition that can cause so much misery and sharing the skills it takes to manage it doesn’t feel like work to me—I feel like it’s what I’m here to do.

My ongoing experience with OCD

When helping members along their journey to recovery, I often mention that being a therapist who specializes in OCD doesn’t mean that I don’t still have tough days dealing with the condition myself. ERP doesn’t make OCD disappear after all, but it helps us manage it to the point where we can live authentic, enjoyable lives.

I’ve learned to be proactive when I notice my triggers. I’ll actively engage with my OCD through exposure exercises, facing it head-on. I’ve come to understand that relapses are part of the journey, and they don’t negate the progress I’ve made. Life has its ups and downs, but it’s important to keep moving forward. It’s something I say to members discovering that recovery from OCD isn’t always linear.

If you’re seeking help for OCD, I’m here to tell you that it’s important not to shy away from a challenge simply because it appears difficult. Making consistent steps toward recovery—even if they’re small—is critical, and doing a little is always better than doing nothing. Progress may not be immediate, but you’ll often find substantial positive change when you look back. ERP is not about immediate gratification but about continuous effort, staying true to your values, and remaining hopeful that within a few short months of consistent effort, your life will be your own once again.

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