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  • Amanda Bull, LAC

6 Tips for Supporting Someone with OCD


Obsessive compulsive disorder affects 2.5% of the U.S. population and can be incredibly

debilitating. Adults, teenagers, and even children can struggle from symptoms of OCD. But what

is OCD? Something OCD therapists often hear is “but my child’s room is always messy, how

could they possibly have OCD?”. This common misconception of OCD that is often portrayed in

the media is not only inaccurate, but also damaging. As a result, many people will go years

before receiving a diagnosis of OCD delaying proper treatment and possible symptom relief.

This can be harmful because many therapeutic treatments that are often used when OCD is

misdiagnosed can actually reinforce the fears and symptoms associated with OCD.

When diagnosing a client with OCD, a trained mental health professional will first notice the

presence of both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted intrusive thoughts,

images, or impulses that cause extreme discomfort. It often feels as though these thoughts will

not go away until a specific compulsion is completed. A compulsion is a mental or physical

behavior that temporarily reduces the anxiety symptoms associated with an obsession. If your

child or loved one has recently been diagnosed with OCD, you might be wondering what it is

you can do to help them through the treatment process. I have included a few tips below that may be beneficial to you.


1. Educate yourself. There are many resources available to the general public that provide

valuable information about what OCD is, treatment options for OCD, common setbacks

in treatment, and normalization of the disorder. Here are a few of my favorite resources

to help get you started:


a. Website: iocdf.org

b. Book: Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson, PhD

c. YouTube Channel: OCD and Anxiety by Nathan Peterson, LCSW

d. Podcasts: The OCD Stories by Stuart Ralph, MA, MSc and Your Anxiety Toolkit

by Kimberley Quinlan, LMFT


2. Encourage your loved one to seek treatment if they aren’t already. Obsessive

compulsive disorder is a very treatable condition. The two most common treatment

options offered are medication and exposure and response prevention (ERP). ERP is a

form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and is the gold-standard treatment for OCD.

It consists of exposing the individual to their fears (obsessions) and encouraging them to

not engage in anxiety-reducing rituals (compulsions). The success rate of ERP treatment

is 75%, while the success rate of medication alone is only 40% (Kozak et al., 2000).

When seeking treatment, it is important to find a therapist who has experience with

treating OCD. Find Your Shine Therapy has several therapists who are trained in

exposure and response prevention that offer a free 10-minute phone consultation.


3. Remind your loved one of their “why”. Exposure and response prevention can be

difficult, especially during the first few sessions. While an extremely effective treatment

option, it is important to understand that ERP will intensify anxiety symptoms during

exposure exercises. If you notice your loved one skipping therapy sessions or not

completing assigned ERP homework, it can be helpful to remind them of why they

sought therapy in the first place. It may be helpful to ask them questions including, “How

is OCD affecting your life?”, “What has OCD taken away from you?”, “What are your

goals for treatment and why did you pick those goals?”, etc. Encourage your loved one to

write the answers to these questions down and to revisit them daily or as needed when

they feel their motivation slipping.


4. Notice your participation in your loved one’s rituals. Many family members provide

accommodations to their loved one’s compulsions or rituals. Although this may seem

helpful, it is actually harmful to the individual’s treatment success. Many families will

avoid situations that trigger their loved one’s OCD, provide their loved one with

reassurance surrounding an obsession, and may even follow rules set by the individual

struggling with OCD that seem irrational. For example, if an individual with OCD has an

obsession about getting food poisoning, they may seek reassurance from a loved one by

repeatedly asking “Is my chicken cooked enough?” or “am I going to get sick?”. The

individual may also avoid eating at restaurants or insist that their loved ones check the

temperature of meat several times. Part of the ERP process is slowly encouraging the

individual and their loved ones to not engage in their rituals.


So, what can be a helpful response when your loved one seeks reassurance from you

rather than giving into their compulsion? Here are some of my personal favorite

examples, “This sounds like the OCD talking”, “I’m wondering if this is a compulsion,

what do you think?”, “Maybe [obsession] will happen, maybe it won’t. We can’t know

for sure”, “I understand this is hard for you, would it help you if I sit here with you while

the urge to complete this compulsion passes?”, and “Remember why you don’t want to

engage in compulsions”, etc. Please note that some individuals require a more gradual

approach to exposure and response prevention than others. Therefore, it is recommended

that this is done under the guidance of a trained ERP therapist.


5. Be patient and celebrate the “small” victories. Many of the fears that come from OCD

may seem irrational and extreme which can often lead to frustration with your loved one.

This can create feelings of guilt for the individual struggling with OCD and sometimes

even decrease their motivation for treatment. It is important to be patient with your loved

one and remember that they are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have. It

is also helpful to celebrate the “small” victories with them. For example, if your spouse

routinely checks that the stove is off three times before leaving the house and today they

only checked it twice, acknowledge it and celebrate it with them! That is a HUGE

accomplishment that should be recognized.


6. Find a support group for yourself. Supporting a loved one going through OCD

treatment can be difficult and may create conflicting emotions. Having a community of

peers who share frustrations, concerns, and ask questions similar to you can be incredibly

beneficial and validating. Many support groups are led by licensed professionals who

have experience working with members of the OCD community and offer in person or

virtual meeting times. If you prefer a less formal environment, there are also several

Facebook support groups available to you at any time. Below you will find several

Facebook and virtual support groups for parents, spouses, and family members of loved

ones struggling with OCD.


a. Support Group For Parents of Kids with OCD on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/588529971296198/

b. OCD and Anxiety Support Group on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/ocdandanxietyonline/

c. Mental Health Strong Spouses Virtual Support Group:

https://mentalhealthstrong.com/support-groups/

d. Parents of Adult Children with OCD Virtual Support Group (U.S. and

Canada): ocdparents4parents@gmail.com

e. Parents of Anxious Kids (PoAK) Virtual Support Group:

ocdnhinfo@gmail.com

f. Family Member OCD Virtual Support Group: drspitalnick@anxietyatl.com

g. Search for more support groups in your area (virtual and in person):

https://iocdf.org/ocd-finding-help/supportgroups/

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