Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

What is OCD?

Every day I'm overwhelmed by thoughts, images, and urges that I don't want to have. Since they're usually about people or things that are really important, I've started doing things to try to make them stop—I avoid places, distract myself from my thoughts, and I get stuck thinking the same things over and over. But they're not stopping, and I actually think I'm getting worse. What can I do?

When I meet with people to start OCD treatment, this is the kind of story I hear. Sharing these experiences is where the journey to understanding OCD—and conquering it—begins.

A person sits with their tablet and we see that they are thinking "Am I really going to hurt someone?" and "Can I trust myself?"
Dr. Patrick McGrath

By Patrick B.McGrath, PhD

Chief Clinical Officer at NOCD

OCD stands for
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD is a highly treatable mental health condition that affects approximately 1 in 40 people around the world, but it remains widely misunderstood.

People with OCD experience repetitive and intrusive thoughts, images, urges, or feelings, called obsessions. These obsessions do not align with a person's actual values or desires. Often, they're the exact opposite: a loving mother might be overwhelmed with mental images of hurting her newborn, or a devoted grade school teacher may be consumed with fears about being sexually attracted to his students.

Everyone has intrusive thoughts from time to time, and most people are able to move on from them, realizing that these thoughts don't pose a threat or mean anything about their values or identity. For people with OCD, however, these thoughts feel significant and even dangerous, causing intense negative feelings: fear, distress, anxiety, or discomfort.

As a result, they perform compulsions, which are mental or physical actions done to relieve distress or keep an unwanted event from happening. Compulsions may provide short-term relief from anxiety and distress, but they keep people with OCD trapped in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions that gets worse over time. Compulsions can take up hours every day and lead to years of debilitating anxiety, workplace stress, health risks, and strained relationships.

Break the OCD cycle

Break the OCD cycle of obsession, distress, compulsion, and temporary relief.
Learn about symptoms

Treatment options

Exposure and response prevention (ERP)

ERP is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that was developed specifically to treat OCD, and is backed by decades of clinical research.

ERP works by carefully exposing people to situations that trigger their obsessions, then helping them resist the urge to engage in compulsions as a result. In time, this process teaches them to sit with the discomfort and anxiety that comes from obsessions, rather than resorting to compulsions that perpetuate the OCD cycle and make it worse over time.


SSRI antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft) are the most common medications used in OCD treatment, but certain tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and atypical antipsychotics can also be effective.

For many people with OCD, the most effective treatment approach involves a combination of medication management and ERP therapy. For individuals with severe symptoms or additional mental health conditions (known as comorbidities), medication may allow them to respond more effectively to ERP therapy.


How is OCD treated?

Without treatment, OCD can take over someone's life for years. But decades of clinical research have shown that OCD is a highly treatable condition, and that successful outcomes can be achieved relatively quickly.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from OCD, it's important to learn about the most effective treatment options so you can get back to living the life you want as soon as possible.

Without treatment, OCD can take over someone's life for years. But decades of clinical research have proven that OCD is highly treatable, and that people can achieve lasting recovery from their symptoms.

If you think you may be suffering from OCD, it's important to learn about the most effective treatment options so you can get back to living the life you want to live—not the life OCD wants you to live.

Common OCD Subtypes

Although all forms of OCD share common features, OCD symptoms themselves can vary widely from person to person. OCD often fixates on specific themes, or subtypes, like contamination, harm, checking, or perfectionism. People with OCD can experience more than one subtype at once, and these subtypes often change over time.

OCD subtypes can help people to find community with others who share similar experiences, and they can assist therapists in designing targeted treatment plans, but they don't tell the whole story. If you can't find your subtype, that doesn't mean you don't have OCD—everyone's experience is unique, and many people's OCD symptoms don't fit neatly into any specific theme.


Select a category to learn more about it

ERP is most effective when it's done under the guidance of a therapist who specializes in ERP. To find a licensed, ERP-trained therapist, book a free 15-minute call with NOCD.