Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

What Is ZOCD: Overview, Symptoms and Treatment Options

4 min read
Keara Valentine
By Keara Valentine
All types of OCD include obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, feelings, urges and doubts, while compulsions are repetitive physical or mental actions performed in an attempt to relieve distress and anxiety

Zoophilia OCD (ZOCD) is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in which a person experiences obsessions that are romantic and/or emotional in nature about animals, typically a pet. With ZOCD and other similar manifestations of OCD, the intrusive thoughts are ego-dystonic, meaning they are not representative of one’s beliefs — the person is not actually romantically attracted to animals, but they greatly fear that they might be. If you have a person who is afraid they might have or want to have sexual relations with an animal, that is more accurately called Bestiality OCD.

When experiencing intrusive thoughts, it can be hard to remember that there is a difference between the thoughts and your actual desires or fantasies. If you think you may have ZOCD, you likely feel disgusted at the thought of having a non-platonic relationship with an animal/pet as well as committing any of the acts you may have obsessed over in relation to ZOCD. 

While ZOCD does center on a potentially sensitive subject matter, it still follows the same obsessive-compulsive cycle as most other subtypes of OCD. This means that ZOCD typically starts with a trigger — either internal or external — that brings about intrusive thoughts. These thoughts typically bring about distress, either emotionally or physically, which compels you to enact compulsions in order to alleviate said distress. However, because OCD is a cycle, this process repeats — sometimes many times throughout the day — causing significant discomfort and disruption to the lives of people with OCD.

If you or someone you love is struggling with ZOCD, here’s a closer look at some of the symptoms you might experience with ZOCD and how you can better manage them through treatment.

What are ZOCD symptoms?

As stated above, ZOCD will manifest as a cycle of intrusive thoughts or obsessions and subsequent compulsions. With ZOCD, the obsessions may look like thinking of engaging in romantic activities with animals or feeling “fake arousal” around animals.

This can lead to a lot of uncertainty about what you actually desire, what kind of person you may be, the values you hold and more. This uncertainty is what feeds the OCD, and it can lead to an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety. To quell the uncomfortable feelings your obsessions cause, you may turn to compulsions. Compulsions typically offer a temporary distraction from the intrusive thoughts and alleviation of distress.

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Examples of compulsions include:

  • Avoiding animals
  • Avoiding places where animals may be, such as a park or zoo
  • Seeking reassurance that you won’t actually act on your thoughts
  • Seeking reassurance about the kind of person you are
  • Performing mental rituals to stop the intrusive thoughts

How can my ZOCD be treated?

First and foremost, it’s important to know that a good therapist will never judge you for your ZOCD symptoms. Because of the nature of your obsessions, it’s understandable that you may be afraid to share your thoughts with another person, and you might even have had a negative experience with a therapist in the past. However, therapists that specialize in OCD understand that you are not your thoughts, and they can help you better manage your symptoms without even batting an eye at what you’re experiencing.

One of the most effective ways to treat ZOCD is through a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Commonly described as the “gold standard” treatment option for all types of OCD, ERP has been proven to effectively help people live life free of the endless cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

In your ERP sessions, your therapist will begin to work with you to expose youself to the things that trigger your intrusive thoughts and allow you to experience them in a safe and controlled environment. Over time, you will learn how to become more tolerant of the uncertainty your thoughts might cause, which can eventually help you feel less compelled to act on your compulsions. Outside of your sessions, your therapist will also encourage you to practice response prevention, which is allowing your obsessions to naturally come up and then practicing resisting your compulsions on your own.

As you move through ERP therapy, you will learn how to let your intrusive thoughts exist and then pass without engaging in your compulsions. Ultimately, it is possible to live a life completely free of compulsions.

How can I begin treatment?

If you are ready to take control of your ZOCD symptoms, you can schedule a free call with the NOCD clinical team. NOCD offers a nationwide network of therapists who specialize in the treatment of OCD and receive ERP-specific training. Once you’re matched with a therapist, you can begin treatment from the comfort of your home. The same goes for Bestiality OCD.

Remember, while your ZOCD symptoms may feel overwhelming, they don’t have to control your life. Treatment is only a call away, and you’ll be well on your way to experiencing life free of your compulsions.

Keara Valentine

Keara E. Valentine, Psy.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine in the OCD and Related Disorders Track, where she specializes in the assessment and treatment of OCD and related disorders. Dr. Valentine utilizes behavioral-based therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) with children, adolescents, and adults experiencing anxiety-related disorders.

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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Licensed Therapist, MA

I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Licensed Therapist, LCMHC

When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.

Tamara Harrison

Tamara Harrison

Licensed Therapist, MA

I have personally struggled with OCD and know what it's like to feel controlled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and to also overcome it using the proper therapy. I’ve been a licensed therapist since 2017. I have an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and practice Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. I know by experience how effective ERP is in treating OCD symptoms.

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