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Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of treatment that helps people cope with and change problematic thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
Also known as CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy is used for various co-occurring disorders and mental illnesses, especially obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But how does cognitive behavioral therapy work for OCD? Does CBT help OCD? Our mental health rehab in Florida lays it all out.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, sensations (obsessions), or ideas that make them feel driven to do something repeatedly (compulsions). Common OCD behaviors like hand washing, checking on things, and cleaning, can significantly impair a person’s social interactions and daily activities. While many people without OCD experience distressing thoughts and repetitive behaviors, they don’t usually interrupt their day-to-day lives. For people with OCD, however, these thoughts are persistent, and their behaviors are rigid to the point where not giving in to these behaviors causes distress.
To be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a person has to experience the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions that consume more than one hour a day, cause distress, and inhibit their ability to function at school or work. Many people aren’t aware that many with OCD know or suspect that their obsessions aren’t realistic, while others think they’re true (referred to as limited insight). Even if a person with OCD knows that their obsessions aren’t real, they may still struggle to disengage from their obsessive thoughts or stop performing repetitive actions.
What Is CBT?
To understand how cognitive behavioral therapy works for OCD, you must first understand what CBT is. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychological therapy that helps people with mental disorders or substance use disorders to recognize and change thinking patterns that contribute to their conditions. The main focus points or components of CBT include:
- Learning to recognize your distortive thinking that’s creating problems and then realistically reevaluating them.
- Gaining a better understanding of others’ behaviors and motivation.
- Using problem-solving skills to cope with challenging situations.
- Learning how to develop confidence in your abilities.
- Facing your fears.
- Using role-playing techniques to practice challenging situations with others.
- Learning how to calm your mind and relax your body.
Our cognitive behavioral therapy at Banyan Mental Health has helped many people with OCD overcome their symptoms and learn how to cope with their conditions on their own. Therapists may tweak their strategies depending on what works best for the individual. Our facility has found that CBT treatment for OCD is highly effective given that it focuses heavily on thought patterns and how they affect our behavior.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for OCD: How It Works
Many mental health specialists combine obsessive-compulsive disorder and cognitive behavioral therapy because OCD symptoms are heavily based on a person’s thought patterns. So how does cognitive behavioral therapy work for OCD? CBT for OCD works by using two types of techniques to change the person’s thoughts and behaviors: exposure and response prevention (ERP) and cognitive therapy. In ERP therapy for OCD, people are placed in situations where they’re gradually exposed to their obsessions and asked not to perform any compulsions. This situational activity is done at the patient’s pace; therapists should never force their clients to do anything they don’t want to do.
Another technique of CBT for intrusive thoughts is imaginal exposure. This is for those who may be resistant to jump into real-world situations. Allowing them to visualize these situations before jumping into them can help to alleviate anxiety about exposure therapy. In visualization or imaginal exposure therapy, the therapist creates a scenario that induces anxiety that the client may experience in a similar situation. For instance, for someone who is afraid of walking down a hallway and being diverted from walking in a specific pattern, the therapist may ask them to picture that scenario and record their anxiety. Over time, they’re eventually desensitized to the fear of the situation, making them more willing to move on to real-life situations in exposure therapy.
First, patients describe all of their obsessions and compulsions. Then the therapist would arrange a list of things that bother them from mild to most frightening. Patients next choose what they want to face starting from the less scary things. For example, let’s say the person has a fear of germs in public places. The therapist may then create a task for them, like touching a public doorknob. The person’s compulsion might be to wash their hands immediately, but the therapist will ask them to wait before doing so. As time progresses, therapists will continue this exposure and ask them to refrain longer, eventually teaching the person to control their compulsion.
Habit Reversal Training
This intervention aspect of CBT for OCD focuses on awareness training, introducing competing responses, social support, positive reinforcement, and relaxation techniques. Awareness training involves practicing the habit or tic in front of the mirror. Awareness training encourages the patient to focus on the sensation of the body and muscles before and while engaging in the behavior. Therapists will also record when the habit or tic occurs, which increases self-awareness regarding how and why these urges develop, increasing the person’s chances of recognizing and stopping these behaviors in the future.
After this, therapists will then work with their clients to develop competing responses, which refers to finding similar movements that aren’t as noticeable to others. For instance, someone with a vocal tic may learn how to tense the muscles in their cheeks to prevent the tic. Additionally, someone with a compulsion to touch things with both hands may be asked to hold one arm tightly against their body to avoid the tic.
Cognitive therapy for OCD helps the person understand that the brain is sending error messages to the body. Therapists help clients learn to recognize these messages and respond to them in ways that help them control their obsessions and compulsions. Cognitive therapy for OCD focuses on the meanings we attach to misinterpreted experiences. For instance, if a friend passes by you without acknowledging you, maybe you misinterpret their action by assuming they don’t like you, and you may believe this thought is true and important. Cognitive therapy helps you interpret this situation from an outside perspective and tell yourself that maybe your friend didn’t acknowledge you because they were distracted or they simply didn’t see you.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD focuses on negative thoughts and the experiences attached to them. While most people can easily dismiss certain thoughts, others have certain beliefs and thoughts that are always important or set in stone. Instead of brushing them off, their beliefs may cause them to react differently or make them think they’re a bad person for thinking that way.
OCD can be an extremely stressful condition that can prevent a person from living their life. Their relationships and ability to carry out daily tasks can suffer as a result of untreated OCD. If you or someone you know needs OCD treatment or help for another form of mental illness, you’ve come to the right place. Our inpatient mental health rehab offers a variety of mental health treatment methods and disorder-specific treatments that work in tandem to create an effective recovery plan for patients. Call us today at 888-280-4763 for more information.