Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

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

Your stories

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Katie d'Ath
Posted on 17/10/2013

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Clive shares his recent Mastermind victory and his experiences of managing OCD.

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What treatments can help?

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

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT is a talking treatment that focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour.

There's a lot of evidence that CBT is effective for treating OCD. But it can be challenging and may make you feel more anxious at first. Talk to your doctor or psychiatrist about whether you are ready to start CBT.

OCDAction have a CBT checklist to help you make sure that the CBT you are receiving is the most effective for treating OCD. See our pages on CBT for more information.

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

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:

Find out more about our podcasts or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Audioboom.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP)

ERP is a type of CBT that is recommended for treating OCD. ERP works by helping you 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. Your therapist may even suggest that you do something that makes you feel even more anxious.

ERP helps you to see that the uncomfortable feelings will eventually go away even if you don't perform a compulsion. As ERP continues people find that their obsessions cause them less anxiety and the anxiety they do feel goes away faster. They feel less need to do compulsions. This is called habituation.

You would always start by confronting situations you find easy and building up slowly to more difficult situations.

It's hugely frustrating and exhausting trying to break out of patterns that you know aren't helpful or healthy. But you can eventually achieve fresh change that seemed impossible.

Overcoming OCD as a teenager

Read Shaun's blog about how he developed OCD as a teenager, and how he became free of the thoughts and rituals.

What medication is available for OCD?

Your doctor may offer you medication alongside CBT. If there is a long waiting list for CBT your doctor may suggest you take medication while you are waiting as well.

  • Antidepressants are recommended for the treatment of OCD by the National Institute of Health and Social Care Excellence (NICE) - the body who produces best-practice guidelines in health care.  See our pages on antidepressants for more information.
  • Tranquillisers: if you are experiencing very severe anxiety you may be offered tranquillisers. See our pages on tranquillisers for more information.
  • Beta-blockers are occasionally prescribed to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety. See our pages on beta-blockers for more information.

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

Can neurosurgery be used to treat OCD?

Neurosurgery (NMD) is not a recommended treatment for OCD. It is very occasionally offered in severe cases when all other treatments have been unsuccessful. Neurosurgery is strictly regulated under the Mental Health Act. See our pages on NMD for more information.

How can I access treatment?

To get treatment on the NHS you should visit your doctor (also known as your GP). If your GP thinks you may have OCD they will refer you to a psychiatrist (or another mental health professional) for an assessment.

What treatment you are offered will depend on how severe your OCD is and how you respond to initial treatment. If the treatment you have been offered isn't helping, talk to your doctor or psychiatrist. There may be a more intensive treatment available.

If your OCD is very severe then 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.

If you have a diagnosis and think that you are starting to relapse after a period of being free from symptoms, your doctor should refer you directly to the waiting list for more treatment - you shouldn't need to wait another assessment first.

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 tips for talking to your GP here.

Can I go private?

Unfortunately, waiting times for talking treatments on the NHS can be long. If you feel that you don’t want to wait you may choose to see a therapist privately. You can find a therapist through The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). See our pages on seeking talking treatments privately for more information.

This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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