In the last 2 posts on this condition I explained what OCD is. In this post, Part 3, I want to consider how it may be treated.
WHAT TREATMENTS ARE NORMALLY GIVEN?
Experts in the field of the treatment of OCD generally recommend cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) which is made even more effective if it is combined with medication – usually the medication will be an anti-depressant, although sometimes a benzodiazepam may be used.
Generally speaking, the anti-depressant is a long-term treatment, eg given for perhaps a minimum of a year, and up to a whole life-time, even if symptoms significantly improve (this is done in order to minimize the chances of a relapse occurring).
On the other hand, if the individual with OCD is prescribed a benzodiazepam, this will generally only be taken over a short period of time (eg a period when the symptoms are very acute) in order to minimize the risk of the individual with OCD becoming physically and/or psychologically dependent upon them (as they are addictive).
HOW EFFECTIVE IS TREATMENT?
If studies on the effectiveness of anti-depressants for the treatment of OCD are looked at as a whole, on average individuals with OCD who undergo such treatment significantly improve around about 45% of the time. Whilst any improvement is obviously extremely desirable, in general the improvements individuals make by taking anti-depressant medication are not great enough to eliminate the need for other treatments being given alongside.
As has already been referred to, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is usually the type of therapy to be used alongside medication – in fact, it is a specific type of CBT which is known as EXPOSURE WITH RESPONSE PREVENTION (which I’ll henceforth refer to as EWRP). As has also been mentioned, if symptoms are extremely severe then benzodiazepam may be prescribed over the short term before the EWRP can take place.
WHAT DOES EWRP ACTUALLY ENTAIL?
We have already looked at how sufferers of OCD have obsessive thoughts which cause them distress. What EWRP is designed to do is to help the individual TOLERATE SUCH DISTRESS. For, example, one common way in which OCD manifest itself is by making the sufferer inordinately and irrationally fearful of germs. Therefore, s/he may constantly be acutely anxious that his/her hands are ‘dirty’ and that this is potentially ‘highly dangerous’ – this, in turn. leads to constant compulsions to wash their hands in order to relieve their distressing and acute anxiety. However, the sense of relief is extremely ephemeral and the compulsion returns, perhaps leading the afflicted individual to wash his/her hands 100 times a day.
In the above example, the approach EWRP takes is to help the person tolerate the distress that his/her perception of having ‘dirty’ hands causes him/her by encouraging him/her not to wash them for a given period of time. As the person becomes better and more used to the anxiety caused by not washing them, the period of time can be gradually increased. The idea is that the person will become desensitized to the anxiety associated with unwashed hands.
On top of this, CBT can be used to help the individual challenge irrational thoughts which are connected to his/her OCD. For example, in the case described above, the individual could be helped to challenge thoughts such as ‘having any dirt on my hands is highly dangerous’ and to understand that the thought is an enormous exaggeration of any objective danger.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).