OCD letters

If a loved one of yours is struggling with OCD, you’ll already know all too well how exhausting and tricky it can be to support them as they navigate dealing with their OCD. It’s important to remember that for the person struggling with OCD, they are not intentionally trying to cause you distress. It’s actually fully expected that they will constantly try to seek out reassurance and want your patience in letting them engage in their compulsions because that’s the very nature of the illness. Now just because their illness drives them do do this does not mean that your role is to facilitate their OCD behaviors. In fact it’s imperative that you encourage them to get treatment (ERP therapy) and learn to play a role in their treatment that is not reinforcing of their OCD. Below are some ideas of how to support a loved one with OCD.

Help Them Find Professional Treatment

If your loved one has not yet sought out OCD treatment, then your first priority should be helping them find a therapist who specialized in treating OCD using Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (ERP). This is the gold standard for treating OCD and is an empirically supported treatment. Your loved one might end up needing to initially work with both a therapist and a treatment program which is more intensive.

Learn About how OCD works

The more you can educate yourself about the diagnosis, the better equipped you’ll be to support your loved one. In general, OCD involves intrusive thoughts that drive a person to engage in irrational behaviors in a compulsive manner. While engaging in their compulsions can be temporarily relieving, in the long term it only strengthens their OCD and makes it harder to overcome. For example, for someone with contamination OCD, frequent hand washing might momentarily provide some relief from their contamination fears, by constantly washing their hands, they are not learning to tolerate their discomfort with having hands that are not “fully or perfectly clean” and they are reinforcing the belief that to prevent contamination they have to wash their hands for a certain period of time and a specific amount of times.

Do not reinforce their OCD behaviors

The best way you can help your loved one who is struggling with OCD is to NOT provide reassurance to them if they are seeking it out to get relief from their OCD thoughts and to help them to NOT engage in their compulsive behaviors. It might seem like this is mean or that you’re increasing their anxiety but really this is wha is needed for them to overcome their OCD. Part of OCD treatment is learning to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty about outcomes or meanings and if you keep reassuring them then they will keep needing that reassurance to be okay.

be patient & Empathic

While you won’t be responding to their requests that align with their OCD pathology, it is imperative that you are patient with them as doing ERP therapy can be a grueling process. They will greatly benefit from your being empathic, showing them understanding and not minimizing how difficult living with OCD is.

Help Them to stay motivated

You can also act as their greatest cheerleader during the treatment process and remind them why they need to overcome their OCD by reviewing all the ways in which OCD impacts their life negatively. Encourage them that if they stick with their treatment, it will get easier and they will be able to overcome their OCD. Living with OCD is like being trapped and a life without OCD is liberating.

If your loved one needs OCD therapy, our Chicago OCD therapists can help. Contact us today.

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