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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Explains obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

What treatments can help?

Most people who get the right treatment see a significant improvement in their OCD. This page covers:

How can I access treatment?

The first step to getting treatment for OCD is to visit your GP. Your GP will ask about your symptoms and discuss different treatment options.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the organisation that produces guidelines on best practice in healthcare – suggests that treatment for OCD should include talking treatments and medication. You can read the full guidelines and recommendations here.

The combination of treatments you are offered will depend on how severe your OCD is. It will also account for any treatments you have tried in the past, and whether or not these worked.

If you feel a treatment isn't working for you, it's a good idea to discuss this with your GP, as there may be  alternatives available.

I'm worried about talking to my doctor

You might feel scared about telling anyone, even a doctor, about how graphic or distressing your obsessive thoughts can be. You may be ashamed of your obsessions or worry that the doctor might report you to the police or social services. Or you may find it hard to admit how much time your compulsions take up.

These feelings can make it difficult to get the right help. But the type of treatment you are given depends on the intensity of your OCD and how much it affects your life, so the more honest you are, the more likely you are to get the best help for you.

You can read more about talking to a GP here.

What talking therapies might I be offered?

You may be offered the following talking therapies for OCD, either on their own, or along with medication. In some areas, you may be able to refer yourself online for NHS therapy, via the NHS's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) search tool or the NHS's general search tool for health services (both England only).

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour. You can read more about CBT here.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP)

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is specifically designed for OCD. It encourages you to confront your obsessions and resist the urge to carry out compulsions.

During ERP, your therapist will support you to deliberately put yourself in a situation that would usually make you feel anxious. Instead of performing your usual compulsion, you will be encouraged to try and tolerate the anxiety.

ERP helps you to see that the uncomfortable feelings will eventually go away even if you don't perform a compulsion.

This type of therapy can be challenging and might make you feel more anxious at first. It may help to talk to a healthcare professional before you start ERP. They can answer any questions you have about what it involves, and whether you are in a good place to start the therapy.

Cognitive therapy

Cognitive therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative feelings about yourself, to help you change unhelpful responses and behaviours.

"I started to learn how to manage my OCD when I spoke to a therapist."

Seeking therapy privately

Waiting times for therapy on the NHS can be long, and some people choose to seek private therapy instead. This is usually quicker, but it can be expensive. You can read more about seeking private therapy here.

Faisal's Story

Listen to Faisal explain why he didn't feel able to talk to friends and family when he first started experiencing obsessions and compulsions, and how CBT has helped him manage:


Read the transcript of the podcast here. Find out more about our podcasts or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Audioboom.

What medication might I be offered?

You may be offered the following medications for OCD, either on their own or alongside talking therapy:

You can read more about these antidepressants here.

Different people find different medications helpful. You can talk to your doctor about your options – you might find you need to try out a few different types of medication before you find one that works for you.

"I've been on meds for the last three years and my OCD is so much more controllable."

Might I be offered social care support?

Depending on how your OCD impacts your life, you may be eligible for social care. Social care services support people who struggle to manage day-to-day activities. You can read more about social care in our guide to health and social care rights.

Specialist OCD services

If your OCD is very severe and the above treatment options have not helped, you may be referred to a specialist OCD service. Unfortunately, not all areas have specialist services and you might have to travel outside your local area.

You can read more about national specialist OCD services on the NHS Choices website.

This information was published in May 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

References and bibliography available on request.

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