Can OCD Be Cured?Apr 21, 2023
In my personal experience, the answer is YES, but not in the way you might think. First, let's look at the definition of "cure." Miriam-Webster defines cure as the recovery or relief from a disease or disorder.
Second, let's look at what OCD consists of - obsessions (thoughts that preoccupy the mind) and compulsions (mental and physical responses to get rid of the discomfort) about a particular subject. When you eliminate the obsessions and compulsions, you WILL have complete relief from the symptoms of OCD. The caveat here is that uncertainty and challenges are part of life, so your brain may go "try" back to these old coping mechanisms from time to time, but...
- When you're aware of this; and
- You use the recovery skills as soon as you notice the pattern,
- The brain won't go back to obsessing & compulsions & you can keep yourself in what I call the Lifetime Recovery Stage!
My Journey to Recovery
After 6 months of debilitating anxiety, and going to talk therapy, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and more, I had moments of hope but was not much better. I finally found out (from Google) that I was experiencing OCD, and learned about that ERP, a form of CBT was the best treatment. Over time, I worked with 4 ERP therapists, all of which were extremely helpful and taught me crucial ERP techniques that reduced my OCD symptoms greatly. I experienced so much relief that I decided to help others struggling with OCD by becoming a coach.
The problem was that over the next year or two, I did continue to have relapses of anxiety and OCD symptoms. I thought this was normal and how I'd live forever, which I worked on accepting. But here's the good news - I no longer have relapses because as a sufferer and an Anxiety & OCD Recovery Coach, I've learned what was missing in the typical recovery journey!
Typical ERP Therapy
In my personal experience and talking with hundreds of people who have done ERP, a good ERP therapist will teach you exposure techniques to use in response to your intrusive thoughts or feared situations & they will do them with you in session so you can learn them effectively. They will also teach you response prevention, essentially to not respond in compulsive ways to the feared thoughts and situations which makes them stronger.
This is very helpful, and if you learn this, use the techniques daily, and apply them to all feared thoughts and situations, you will experience relief. But...there were 2 very important missing pieces here that I had to learn through my own journey as a sufferer and a coach that eliminated OCD from my life completely.
#1 - Identify ALL Compulsions & Reduce to ZERO
It wasn't until my 3rd ERP specialist that I was told "your compulsions need to be at zero." While I knew I wasn't supposed to do compulsions, that was too vague for me. OCD's excuses were rational, like "isn't it normal to ruminate or THINK?" What I've learned is yes, thinking is normal, maybe even overthinking at times, but responding to intrusive thoughts with analyzing them, trying to "figure them out" or even trying to get to the "truth" are all compulsions and will all fuel the OCD pattern.
As a coach, I knew that I had to start helping my clients to identify every single one of their compulsions, so this is exactly what I did, and with myself too. Between identifying all compulsions and applying a number to clarify the severity of them, this gave us the clarity we needed so we could eventually stop doing them 100% of the time. As soon as my compulsions got to zero, I felt like OCD was no longer a part of my life and I've felt that way ever since. My clients experience the same.
#2 - Taking Exposure All the Way!
With all four ERP Specialists that I worked with, they had me do exposures until my discomfort dropped in half. One day while on a coaching call, I asked myself "why am I stopping at half? I wonder if we can get to zero discomfort here?" So, we did, and with more time, their discomfort dropped to zero.
So, I had them continue with the exposure daily, going until the discomfort was zero, meaning the thought did not bother them anymore at all, and that thought never came back for many who did this consistently. We just hadn't taken the exposure techniques far enough to see as much success as we could have in the past!
On the Right Track, But Some Crucial Mistakes
See, these Specialists are helping, they're on the right track with ERP, most are just making some crucial mistakes that could help people fully recover from OCD. Here are some common mistakes I see:
- Not teaching ERP thoroughly. In order to fully recover, people need to:
- Understand what is going on in the brain.
- Learn how to react in healthy ways to uncertainty, imperfection, and discomfort.
- And apply these new ERP techniques consistently (otherwise the brain will automatically start responding compulsively) until the pattern has completely changed.
- Not helping clients identify all compulsions and to stop them completely.
- Not doing exposure exercises in session with the client to ensure they're doing it properly.
- Not explaining the recovery stage or sticking with clients until they get there.
- Not teaching clients what to do when they do reach the recovery stage that keeps OCD from resurfacing:
- Accept that uncertainty & doubt are parts of life, and to use ERP immediately when these thoughts and situations show up.
- Accepting that OCD can come back if we start responding with compulsions, so...
- Keep compulsions at zero (with a regular ERP practice).
I have been in the Lifetime Recovery Stage for years, and With the Right Help, Yours Can Be Too!
OCD no longer bothers me (for years now) because I have made ERP and a few other techniques a way of life. Just like physical health, you can't eat well and exercise for a week, stop, and expect to stay in good physical health. You have to make healthy behaviors a habit, and when we do this physically and mentally, we CAN STAY IN GOOD MENTAL HEALTH!
No matter how bad your OCD is, or how long you've had it, you can get here too! It takes time, (for most) it takes consistent support from a program or professional who can teach you how to do it and help support you along the way, but I see it every day! I've NEVER seen ERP not work, when done properly and consistently.
If you want to reach the full, Lifetime Recovery Stage for your OCD subset, visit this page to view our recovery programs designed for all financial levels. You've got this!!!
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