Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a crippling condition. It can take over your life and leave little time for enjoyment.
OCD is surprisingly common. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, OCD affects 2.2 million US adults; that’s 1% of the whole US population.
Coping with OCD is a battle, and many people lean on medication to help ease the burden. But is treating OCD without medication possible? In this article, we’ll explore how you can treat your OCD without the need for meds.
What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Most people suffering from OCD will receive a diagnosis at age 19. But it can occur much earlier, with 25% of cases appearing by 14 years of age. OCD doesn’t affect one gender more than the other; the cases are equal in men and women.
What causes OCD?
Unfortunately, there’s still much we don’t understand about OCD, its cause included. But what is known is that someone is more likely to develop OCD if one or more of their first-degree relatives has it. This could be a brother, a sister, and/or a parent.
And some studies suggest that OCD is linked to childhood trauma and streptococcal infection.
What are the symptoms of OCD?
OCD is different for every individual. It doesn’t look the same. But it’s common for those with OCD to experience thought patterns and behaviors. OCD consists of 3 central elements. Let’s take a look at these.
Experience intrusive thoughts. These unwanted thoughts are often distressing and repetitive.
|2. INTENSE EMOTIONS
Obsessions are typically followed by intense emotions such as distress, anxiety, disgust, guilt, or shame.
Also called “safety behaviors,” – these are repetitive actions to relieve the intense emotion brought about by the obsessions. They are fueled by the obsession, as the sufferer tries to “fix” a problem.
This quickly becomes a loop, as the person performs the compulsion to alleviate the anxiety, thus reinforcing the intrusive thought.
Is there just one type of compulsion?
There is an endless range of intrusive thoughts. These lead to a variety of compulsive behaviors, but the most common are:
- Checking (turned-off switches, locked doors, etc.)
- Cleaning (scrubbing hands, etc.)
- Avoiding triggering places and environments
- Obsessive counting
- Specific arranging and/or ordering
Of course, some compulsive behaviors are more noticeable than others. Some people may not even realize they’re performing compulsive behaviors at all!
Can OCD Be Left Untreated?
When you engage in compulsions to relieve the distress caused by the intrusive thought, you add weight to the thought. Your brain thinks, “I have a reason to be worried about this.” Unfortunately, this increases the frequency of obsessive thoughts.
This can continue until you’re spending a large portion of your day engaging in compulsions. The compulsive behaviors begin to hijack your life; you start to feel out of control.
OCD can have a highly detrimental effect on social relationships, as the OCD sufferer spends progressively longer performing their safety behaviors. It can result in loneliness and low mood, with 1/4 to 1/2 of individuals showing significant depressive symptoms.
Someone experiencing severe OCD can also be tough to live with, and family members and friends often lack awareness of how to help their loved ones.
So, what can be done?
Treating OCD Without Medication – Is It Possible?
Can OCD be treated without medication? Yes, it can, but it requires time, effort, and unwavering determination.
Medication helps reduce the severity of OCD symptoms, so they’re manageable, but it comes at a price. OCD medication can have many side effects, leaving you feeling worse before feeling any better.
You can try to overcome your OCD on your own or seek therapy. These methods take longer, but they don’t hit you with severe physiological side effects like medication.
How to Treat OCD on Your Own
It is possible to treat OCD independently, although it’s not advised when symptoms are moderate-severe. Obsessive safety behaviors are either used to avoid intrusive thoughts, escape them, or reassure oneself.
To help yourself when suffering from OCD, you need to manage these drives. But what do these look like?
- Avoidance – Steering clear of the triggering situation, place, or object.
- Escape – Performing a safety behavior to relieve yourself of (or escape from) the intense feeling caused by the obsession.
- Seeking reassurance – Looking to other people or the internet to ease the anxieties brought on by the obsessions.
To overcome OCD yourself, you need to stop attempting to avoid, escape, and seek reassurance. These are only feeding the OCD cycle. But this can’t be done all in one go – it’s a gradual process.
Try writing your obsessions down from most detrimental to least. The least impactful obsession is a great place to start.
This process will be incredibly unpleasant to begin with, but perseverance is key. Remind yourself that you’re doing this for a reason, and the obsessive thought will go eventually.
If this feels too monumental to do alone, seek outside support like therapy.
Therapy for OCD
Therapy can uncover the root cause of your anxiety. You may have a clue as to why you’re experiencing these obsessive thoughts, or perhaps you have no idea at all.
Regardless of where you’re at with understanding, a trained and licensed professional can help you identify the reason for your obsessions so you can begin to manage them.
There are several therapeutic approaches used to tackle OCD, but the most recommended is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Let’s explore this in detail.
OCD Therapy Techniques: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is a short-term, solution-focused therapy approach that has been shown highly effective for OCD. A study looking at the effect of a 12-week CBT treatment program on individuals with OCD found a significant reduction in OCD symptoms after the program.
This therapy approach typically involves a process called exposure and response, also termed exposure and response therapy.
In CBT, the OCD sufferer is gently exposed to their fears and triggers one by one. The therapist will then support this individual to gradually reduce the frequency of their compulsive behaviors.
Over time, this breaks the link between obsessive thought and compulsion, and the individual realizes that their worst fear isn’t dependent on them performing their safe behavior.
But What if CBT Doesn’t Work?
Exposure and response prevention doesn’t work for everyone. If it sounds frightening or unappealing to you, don’t worry. There are other alternatives:
|Alternatives to CBT for OCD
|What does this entail?
|You’d see a therapist on a 1:1 basis, 1–2 times a week. This would consist of 45–50-minute sessions.
|You’d attend group therapy or a support group for people suffering from OCD. These typically occur once a week.
|Mental health hospital
|You would receive support for your OCD in a hospital setting with mental health professionals.
|You would stay at a residential placement voluntarily, supported by the care workers at the facility.
|You’d go to group or individual therapy during the day. Attendance requirements may range from 1 to 5 days a week.
|If OCD is extremely severe and debilitating, the individual may be placed in a locked mental health unit for their own safety. Here, they will receive the best care available.
But is in-person mental health support the only choice? No! That’s where online counseling comes in.
Online Therapy for OCD
You’ll be matched up with a therapist, typically within the same day.
Get help in the comfort of your own home, without the worry of transport costs and logistics. And contact your therapist at any time of the day or night!
It’s cheaper too, ranging from $29 to $47 per session rather than $100–200 in person.
If you want more information on the potential benefits of online therapy for you, check out this article.
Overcome OCD Without Medication
OCD can be an incredibly debilitating condition. But you can get better – treating OCD without medication is possible.
You can attempt to avoid engaging in your safety behaviors independently, or you can look for mental health support from a trained professional, such as a therapist or counselor.
Untreated OCD can lead to breakdowns of relationships and depression, and fighting the battle against OCD by yourself isn’t easy. We highly recommend seeking some outside support.
A great alternative to in-person support is online therapy. It’s cheaper, can be accessed day or night, and there’s no hanging around!