Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be debilitating, and an estimated 2.2 million Americans struggle with it. People with OCD often have trouble performing everyday tasks and obligations, such as work and school. Although OCD is generally considered a lifelong condition, there are treatments available that can significantly reduce the severity of its symptoms. Certain medications can be effective at managing OCD symptoms, and many people who suffer from OCD can benefit from therapy. A lot of the time, OCD is best managed with a combination of medication and therapy. Fortunately, there are affordable and effective therapy options for people with OCD. If your OCD symptoms are interfering with your quality of life, you should work on getting help as soon as possible.
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What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental condition characterized by patterns of unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that cause people to exhibit repetitive, impractical behaviors (compulsions). In a nutshell, people with OCD feel overwhelming stress when thinking about their obsessions, and they perform the impractical behaviors in an attempt to alleviate that stress. Many experts believe that OCD might be tied to other mental-health conditions, such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
Causes, symptoms and risk factors
The medical community does not yet fully understand OCD, so its exact cause remains a bit of a mystery. Thus far, medical experts suspect that OCD may be caused by:
- Changes in the body's brain functions or natural chemistry
- Certain genetic factors that doctors have not yet identified
- Learning fears and obsessions over time or from family members
Even though the exact cause is unknown, experts have identified certain risk factors that may contribute to OCD. These include:
- Trauma and stress: People who experience excessive stress or traumatic life events may be at an increased risk of OCD. These life events might trigger obsessive thoughts and lead to compulsive behavior
- Family history: People whose parents or other family members have mental-health conditions may be at an increased risk of OCD
- Other mental-health conditions: OCD may be more prominent in people with other mental-health conditions
- Physical differences in certain areas of the brain: People with OCD have less grey matter in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that plays a key role in suppressing responses and habits
OCD is slightly more common in women than in men, and the average age of onset is 19 years old. The symptoms of OCD vary in type and severity. It's possible for people with OCD to exhibit only obsessions or compulsions, but it's most often a combination of both.
Common obsessive symptoms include:
- Fear of dirt or germs
- Unwanted thoughts concerning aggression, religion or sexuality
- Thoughts about harming yourself or others
- An excessive need for things to be orderly or symmetrical
Common compulsive symptoms include:
- Excessive hand washing
- Constantly checking to make sure appliances are powered off or that doors and windows are locked
- Mentally repeating prayers or phrases
- Incessantly counting or arranging things
It's important to understand that having a quirk or two does not always mean you have OCD. Being a perfectionist, for example, is not necessarily indicative of a problem. Before seeking treatment for OCD, your doctor or mental-health professional will have to confirm that you actually have it.
While diagnosing your OCD, your doctor or mental-health professional will:
- Perform a physical exam: Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam to rule out the possibility that an underlying physical condition is causing your symptoms
- Consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5): The American Psychological Association (APA) published the DSM-5 in 2013, and it is widely used by psychiatrists and clinicians in the United States to diagnose psychiatric conditions
- Conduct a psychological evaluation: A psychological evaluation involves discussing your feelings, emotions and behaviors and will help your doctor determine whether you have obsessions or compulsions that are negatively impacting your life. With your permission, your doctor or mental-health professional may also speak to your friends and family
Once your doctor has formally diagnosed you with OCD, you can start planning your treatment.
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Treatment and therapy for OCD
While there is no known cure for OCD, there are several treatment and therapy options that can help reduce your anxiety and the severity of your symptoms.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy designed to help you identify and correct negative thinking patterns. During CBT for OCD, your mental-health counselor will put you in a situation designed to incite your anxiety and trigger your compulsions. After that, your counselor can begin to help you lessen your OCD thoughts and actions.
Medications and other treatments
Some medications have also proven effective in treating OCD symptoms. The most common OCD medications are antidepressants and include:
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Clomipramine (Anafranil)
- Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
In cases where CBT and antidepressants aren't effective, doctors sometimes prescribe antipsychotic drugs, such as risperidone (Risperdal) or aripiprazole (Abilify).
In severe cases of OCD, doctors sometimes resort to neuromodulation, which is an umbrella term for devices that change the electrical activity in certain areas of the brain, but this is uncommon in most cases.
Online versus in-person OCD therapy
Although in-person therapy might be more effective for some people, online therapy can be just as effective in treating OCD, and in some cases, it might even be more effective than traditional counseling. According to a recent Forbes article, online CBT led to a 50% improvement in OCD symptoms.
The Karolinska Institutet, one of the world's foremost medical universities and Sweden's main source of medical research, also conducted a study on the efficacy of online treatment for OCD. The Karolinska Institutet found that:
- Online CBT can be just as effective as conventional CBT
- Online CBT makes OCD treatment more accessible
- Online CBT promotes early treatment, which is crucial to minimizing patients' medical and socioeconomic consequences
While online OCD therapy can be effective, it's important to consider its limitations. Most online therapists will not be able to prescribe medications, make a formal diagnosis or help you comply with the terms of any court-ordered counseling, so if you're in need of any of these things, you may want to consider a more conventional form of therapy.
Cost of online OCD treatment
The cost of online OCD treatment will vary depending on the provider you choose. Generally, though, online OCD treatment will cost a maximum of $90 per week. On average, traditional therapists charge their patients anywhere from $100 to $200 per session, so online therapy is often an affordable alternative.
Overview of online OCD therapy
OCD symptoms can be extremely debilitating, and finding counseling is often intimidating. Still, the evidence shows that people who receive therapy for OCD enjoy a significant improvement in quality of life. Additionally, online therapy is affordable, convenient and effective. If you're suffering from OCD, you should seek professional help immediately. After all, life is too short and precious to suffer needlessly.
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