Obsessive compulsive disorder
Health & Fitness

Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can disrupt your life and negatively impact your well-being. If you suffer from OCD, you may want to consider checking out BetterHelp to get in touch with a qualified mental health professional.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals manage their thoughts and behaviors to better cope with mental issues including OCD. The point of CBT is to focus on the underlying thinking patterns that cause the individual to respond in an unhealthy way.

CBT can help an individual respond effectively to obsessions and compulsions and two of the most common techniques are exposure and response prevention.


Exposure is a technique where the individual will confront things that act as catalysts for their OCD symptoms. The person must remain in those situations or with those objects until the anxiety decreases. In vivo exposure is the type where the person will confront the objects or situations that they fear. Imaginal exposure involves the visualization of the feared objects or situations.

It is easy to get into the mindset that the anxiety will continue for eternity, but exposure aims to defeat these thinking patterns and help the individual learn to manage their fears so that they become less uncomfortable than they were before. This is known as habituation.

Exposure to the obsession and the feelings of discomfort and anxiety have to continue for long enough for the negative feelings to gradually subside on their own. Additionally, exposure is only effective if it is repeatedly used to disrupt the negative feelings associated with OCD.

Therapists will often use imaginal exposure to ease the individual into the situations that they fear. The person will confront the fear in their mind’s eye. This can also help people who suffer from OCD who do not have an identifiable cause of their anxieties. The person will be able to imagine the fears and things that distress them without trying to remove it. Sometimes people who suffer with OCD have a hard time confronting a situation or object and therapists will use imaginal exposure to help them confront it through visualization before they have to confront it in real life.

Ritual Prevention

When somebody who suffers from OCD encounters the situations or objects that they fear or when they have obsessive thoughts, they often feel like that must perform ritualistic behaviors to disrupt the negative feelings. Exposure can bring these negative feelings of ritualization to the individual’s mind. Ritual prevention is a technique used to break the ritualization habits.

During ritual prevention, the individual must cease their rituals even though their urges to ritualize will continue. The rituals are hard to stop because they ease the negative feelings. However, they are unhealthy and interfere with the individual’s normal, daily life.

During ritual prevention, a qualified therapist will help the individual learn how to stop their rituals. In addition, the individual will learn effective, healthy ways to manage and cope with their discomfort and negative thinking patterns.

Therapy for OCD

CBT can be an effective way to treat and manage OCD and therapy often consists of a combination of techniques including, but not limited to, exposure and ritual prevention. It may be hard to seek help if you suffer from OCD. In addition, you may wonder why someone would actually want to put themselves in the position that causes discomfort and negative feelings. However, these therapeutic methods aim to weaken the connection between the triggers and the distress. They also want to remove the connection these negative thoughts have with the rituals that the individual performs.

People who suffer with OCD commonly have inaccurate thinking patterns that can be altered with therapy. Some individuals believe that their rituals will prevent harm. By confronting their fears without any negative consequences, they can slowly realize that their fears are irrational. OCD can cause severe anxiety that prevents someone from making logical judgments about risk. Therapy can help a person see that they can confront the situation without any harm being done.

People with OCD also commonly think that they must avoid the situation or object that they are afraid of. This can cause them to avoid situations or ritualize if the situation is unavoidable. Exposure can decrease their intense feelings of distress and anxiety so that the person can gradually see that a situation is not likely to cause them any harm. Then, when they experience the situation later, they will have a reduction in their negative response.

Final Thoughts on CBT for OCD

Therapy can be an effective way to help you or someone you know who suffers from OCD. Whatever the obsessions or compulsions, a therapist can help an individual cope with the negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors associated with OCD. Two common techniques to treat OCD with therapy are exposure and ritual prevention that consist of confronting the situations that cause the individual anxiety and fear and avoiding ritualizing behaviors. If you, a friend, or a family member suffers from OCD, it never hurts to get into contact with a mental health professional.

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