For many, a combination of medicine and therapy is superior to either approach alone. While medicine may work directly on the brain, the therapies are believed help to retrain the brain to recognize "false threats."
There are two types of psychotherapies that are helpful for treating OCD:
- Exposure and response therapy exposes a person to the cause of their anxiety. For example, a person with a fear of germs may be asked by a doctor or therapist to put their hand on something considered dirty, such as a doorknob. Afterwards, they will refrain from washing their hands. The length of time between touching the doorknob and washing hands becomes longer and longer. Ultimately, when the person realizes that not washing right away does not cause a deadly reaction, the compulsion to wash fades.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the thoughts that are causing distress, and changing the negative thinking and behavior associated them. For obsessive-compulsive disorder, the goal of this therapy is to recognize negative thoughts and, with practice, gradually lessen their intensity to the point of harmlessness.
The most common type of medication used to treat OCD are antidepressants. Treating OCD with antidepressants often takes longer to take effect than treating depression. Also, these medicines must sometimes be given in larger doses and for a longer period of time than for depression.
Complementary Health Approaches
Aerobic exercise is a key complimentary intervention that can work to improve the quality of life for people with OCD. Exercise can work to naturally reduce the baseline level of anxiety a person experiences.