Countless times, people have come into treatment with me who were misdiagnosed in the past or previously told that they did not show the “classic” signs of OCD (meaning, stereotypical signs due to misconceptions about OCD), and so they weren’t able to access the proper treatment as a result. They were not hyper-focused on germs or contamination, they were not checking things endlessly, or they were not perfectionistic. The most heartbreaking cases have been of those who experienced intrusive taboo thoughts and who were told to go to the hospital immediately. They were left to fear that they were dangerous to themselves or their loved ones, just as their thoughts made them fear.
I don’t want anyone else to go through that—and you don’t have to. Everyone struggling with a serious condition like OCD deserves an accurate diagnosis and appropriate, effective treatment. When you work with the right provider, these situations don’t have to occur. That’s why getting treated by someone who is trained to treat OCD is so important.
Here are some signs that you may be receiving the wrong treatment for OCD:
Sign #1: Your provider claims that you can be “cured” of OCD
If your provider is claiming that OCD can be cured entirely, you may want to look elsewhere. As tempting as this may sound, it is not supported by research. OCD is a chronic condition, meaning it doesn’t just go away. It’s common to see or hear things about the latest and greatest miracle cure: drink this, eat this, take this, and you will be completely free of OCD. People may find certain things they eat or do to help with their own symptoms that accompany OCD, but if someone says their treatment will take it away completely, this should be a red flag. The good news is that OCD, although not “curable,” can be effectively managed long-term, and people can live life on their own terms, even with OCD.
Sign #2: Your provider wants you to engage with, argue with, or “figure out” your thoughts
Likewise, if your provider says that you are experiencing symptoms that are “just anxiety,” you may want to explore other options for treatment. They may suggest talk therapy, where you try to challenge the thoughts, focusing on negative thought patterns. In doing so, they encourage you to explore the meaning behind the thoughts, or even argue with the thoughts. In essence, they want you to recognize that the thoughts are illogical—the problem is that you already know that when you have OCD. Someone who is a specialist in OCD knows that engaging with or trying to argue with the thoughts will only make them come back again and again, and can never satisfy the certainty that OCD demands. If your provider is “digging” for meaning in your thoughts or trying to “figure them out,” this should be a wake-up call to seek another source of help.
Sign #3: You’re not working with a licensed mental health provider who is trained to treat OCD
It is not uncommon today to see mental health coaches, peer support specialists, or other people offering services to treat OCD. Whilst these may be beneficial services, they cannot replace the treatment of a licensed specialist with training in Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). Being able to get treatment from someone claiming to have lived experience with OCD can be appealing, and there is nothing wrong with seeking out others who understand the experience of OCD. At the same time, it is crucial to work with someone who is well-trained in providing mental healthcare, and more specifically who is trained to treat OCD. A qualified mental health provider will be able to assess for other areas of concern that may be occurring alongside OCD and assist with the treatment of these. By identifying any other issues you are dealing with, you’ll have the best chance of getting better.
Sign #4: Your provider doesn’t use ERP therapy
The truth is that though other forms of therapy may provide short-term relief, it is not likely that they provide long-term relief. The gold-standard and research-based treatment of ERP is what is recommended for the treatment of OCD. ERP was developed specifically to provide long-term symptom management and relief from OCD. If your provider isn’t using ERP to treat OCD, that’s likely not the best place for you to seek help.
Sign #5: Your provider offers reassurance about your fears
We know that reassurance may help you feel better in the short term, but long-term relief involves learning to sit with the feelings that are uncomfortable. For people with OCD, this means learning to resist seeking reassurance from themselves and others. OCD may cause you to believe that you can’t tolerate these feelings, and reassurance only reinforces this belief. With the proper treatment, they can learn to manage OCD and find that they can tolerate uncertainty and anxiety without receiving reassurance whenever their intrusive thoughts strike.
Sign #6: Your provider teaches thought-stopping techniques
When you have OCD, the issue isn’t the thoughts; the problem is the meaning that you attach to a thought, and the way you respond to it. OCD tries to convince you that you wouldn’t have had an intrusive thought if it didn’t mean something. The truth is, that everyone has intrusive thoughts, and most people without OCD are able to dismiss them as insignificant. People with OCD, however, get stuck on them, find meaning in them, and feel the urge to engage with them. That’s why you should steer clear of thought-stopping or thought-replacement techniques: you’ll never be able to fully stop or replace intrusive thoughts. Everyone has them. Instead, by learning to respond to intrusive thoughts differently when they occur, you can manage OCD long-term.
My own experience with treatment
When I first became serious about seeking help for my symptoms I knew that I had OCD. I had seen a news show that portrayed someone with similar symptoms. Like many, I felt I couldn’t afford to see a specialist. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I could no longer function and live the life I wanted. I was deteriorating mentally and physically. I called a local community agency and scheduled my first appointment. I was excited and nervous at the prospect of finally getting treatment for what had been ailing me for numerous years. I was ready to get help.
I will never forget this experience. There I was, depleted, finally ready to tackle this illness. As I spoke about my intrusive thoughts and compulsions, the licensed mental health provider listened and took notes. It was difficult to open up about some of the things that I was experiencing and I held back a lot of what I wanted to say, out of fear. In the end, I sat there, awaiting her response anxiously. I was not prepared for what I heard. She validated and reassured me that what I was experiencing was normal and that my compulsions were actually helpful. I was taken aback. This was not the response I expected.
This was many years ago before I became a therapist myself. I hadn’t even begun the process yet. Still, I knew. I knew in my heart that this was not the right treatment for me. This well-meaning provider suggested that I didn’t even really need treatment because my symptoms could be considered helpful.
At this time I was spending hours lost in obsessions and compulsions. I was cleaning and disinfecting items almost every hour of the day. My hands were dry and cracked. My mouth area and face were burned red from the harsh chemicals I used regularly on my face. I was so afraid of accidentally poisoning my child that I was going to extreme lengths to avoid anything and everything possible. I prayed for death. I longed to not suffer. There was so much more I hadn’t even opened up about. I never returned to that provider, and it would be years until I sought help again.
I didn’t know what ERP was at that time. All I knew is that I was broken and in the worst mental anguish of my life. I reached out for help and wasn’t heard. Looking back I am able to see that this therapist did not understand OCD at all, and was not trained to treat this debilitating disorder. Once I learned about ERP and how it was specifically designed for OCD, I was able to get the help I really needed. From there, my entire life changed–really, I got my life back. I got to live life on my own terms. OCD no longer controlled me. I was no longer lost in obsessions and compulsions. I could finally recover. That is why I do what I do, now as an OCD specialist. I want every individual with OCD to receive the best treatment available.
If you are looking to start OCD treatment or receive more information on where to get help, please don’t hesitate to book a 15-minute call with our care team. Many, many people on the NOCD team have OCD, have received effective treatment from licensed therapists ourselves, and are actively in recovery, managing our symptoms today. You will be connected to a licensed therapist who knows OCD, who recognizes the pain you are experiencing, and most importantly, who knows how to help.