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What are the Most Effective Treatments for OCD?

written by: Rene Wolf • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 10/10/2010

Therapy, namely exposure and response prevention therapy (a subtype of cognitive behavioral therapy) and medications, are the most effective treatments for OCD.

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    Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood. OCD causes feelings of fear, guilt and extreme panic and may lead to the performance of specific rituals. If left untreated, obsessive compulsive disorder will gradually impact the person's home life, career and relationships. Though there are currently no available “cures" for obsessive compulsive disorder, there are effective treatments available to relieve the person's suffering. There are several types of treatment available, with a combination of medication and therapy being the most effective. The types of therapy and/or medications used will depend on the individual and the severity of their OCD.

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    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a component of psychotherapy. A subtype of CBT is exposure with response prevention (EPR) and a primary type of treatment for those with obsessive compulsive disorder. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to change the person's thought patterns by altering their behavior. The use of exposure and response prevention, according to a report by Epigee Mental Health and the Mayo Clinic reduces the compulsive behavior by 50% to 80%.

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    Exposure and Response Prevention

    This type of therapy is one of the most effective treatments for OCD and gradually introduces the person to the feared object or obsession while teaching them healthy ways of coping with the anxiety experienced as a result of the fear. For example, for a fear of dirt, the person would be introduced to dirt in gradual forms. The first session may require the person to draw or color a picture of dirt; the next session may include them watching a video that includes dirt in some way. The sessions would continue with a greater introduction of dirt until they are asked to hold the dirt.

    With ERP the OCD person is taught various exercises to help reduce the anxiety felt when the compulsion is not completed. In this way the rituals associated with the disorder (such as repeated hand washing) are minimized.

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    Medications

    The use of medications for treatment of OCD are not meant to be a cure for the disorder, but to help with the symptoms of anxiety and depression often associated with it. According to Psych Central's, Dr. Wayne Goodman, medications known as SSRI's which interact with serotonin (a brain chemical), are the primary antidepressant medications shown to be effective in the treatment of OCD.

    Serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, is responsible for mood, anxiety and depression. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) are medications that block the re-absorption of serotonin. When the reuptake of serotonin is inhibited, there is a reduction in anxiety, depression and an overall improvement in mood. SSRI’s do take several weeks before they are completely effective or before results are noticed by the person taking the medication. These antidepressants are well tolerated with only a few common side effects such as nausea, insomnia, drowsiness, tremors and sexual dysfunction. After twelve months of continued use, individuals will typically be weaned off of the antidepressants. SSRI medications include:

    • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
    • Paroxetine (Paxil)
    • Sertraline (Zoloft
    • Clomipramine (Anafranil)

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    References

    John Hopkins Medicine: General OCD treatment http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/ocd/treatment.asp

    Epigee Mental Health: Treatments for OCD http://www.epigee.org/mental_health/ocdtreatment.html

    Wayne K. Goodman, MD. Medications for OCD http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/medications-for-ocd/

    Mayo Clinic Staff: Obsessive compulsive disorder. Treatments and drugs http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/DS00189/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

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