Amanda Bull, LAC
6 Tips for Supporting Someone with OCD
Updated: Mar 24
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:
b. OCD and Anxiety Support Group on Facebook:
c. Mental Health Strong Spouses Virtual Support Group:
d. Parents of Adult Children with OCD Virtual Support Group (U.S. and
e. Parents of Anxious Kids (PoAK) Virtual Support Group:
f. Family Member OCD Virtual Support Group: firstname.lastname@example.org
g. Search for more support groups in your area (virtual and in person):