By Dr. David Woo - May 29, 2023
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be difficult to deal with for individuals with the condition or people around them. You may be wondering how to help someone with OCD when their symptoms are manifesting or how to support someone with OCD in their daily life.
OCD symptoms manifest as:
- Obsessions – disturbing intrusive thoughts revolving around cleanliness, purity, or morality.
- Compulsions – ritualistic behaviors performed to reduce anxiety brought on by the obsessions that do not directly address the reason for anxiety, e.g., tapping your knee three times because your countertop is dirty.
OCD Support Tips
If you think your family member or loved one has OCD, then there are absolutely things you can do to support them along their journey toward recovery. Start with the following tips on how to help someone with OCD.
If you know that your loved one has OCD it is helpful to spend some time educating yourself on some common symptoms so that you can recognize an OCD attack when it is happening. You may find it helpful to check our list of OCD symptoms and consult resources such as the International OCD Foundation (1).
Be Open and Patient
Helping someone with OCD starts with establishing a safe environment in which you can have an open conversation about the condition and its effect on daily life without judgment or stigma.
Although compulsions may seem illogical to us on the outside, brain scans have shown how individuals with OCD may lack the regulatory capacity in the brain to make them stop, even if they are aware that their compulsions are irrational (2).
Compulsions are performed to alleviate anxiety, and we want our loved ones to feel better. Because of this, it can be tempting to affirm these behaviors by participating in the rituals, prompting them or even changing your own routines around them.
However, compulsions can negatively affect the daily life of the OCD person, and accommodating them is not the way to help someone having an OCD attack. Accommodating behavior from family members has consistently been associated with worse outcomes and lower quality of life for OCD patients (3).
Living with OCD can be distressing, but it is a treatable condition. Encourage your loved one to seek a consultation with a medical professional to find a treatment that works for them.
Talk therapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help with OCD. Recent advice from CBT specialists recommends avoiding the temptation to accommodate safety-seeking behaviors and instead encouraging them to engage in approach-supporting behaviors (in which the OCD person confronts and explores their source of anxiety to learn new information that can invalidate their compulsions) (4). Of course, it’s not always clear to family members what the difference between these might be, and it is recommended to work with the input of a licensed therapist to support your OCD loved one.
When it comes to medication, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed for OCD. However, about 40% to 60% of people with OCD do not show satisfactory responses to SSRIs alone (5). Furthermore, unpleasant side effects can make medication intolerable for some patients. Fortunately, there are other options for people who are treatment-resistant, i.e. not responding well to traditional therapies like psychotherapy and medication.
TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation has also been shown to be an effective treatment for OCD, especially in cases where medication and therapy have been unsuccessful. A type of TMS called deep TMS (dTMS) has been FDA-approved for the treatment of OCD, and although it is not yet covered by insurance, there are options to get it on insurance with TMS for depression or to pursue other payment plans (6).
Madison Avenue TMS & Psychiatry offers talk therapy and TMS for OCD. If you think that you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms, contact us online or call (212) 731-2033 to start your journey to better mental health.
- Living With Someone Who Has OCD. Guidelines for Family Members. International OCD Foundation. 2009. https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/expert-opinion-family-guidelines/. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- Stuck in a Loop of ‘Wrongness’: Brain Study Shows Roots of OCD. Michigan Medicine. November 29, 2018. https://www.michiganmedicine.org/health-lab/stuck-loop-wrongness-brain-study-shows-roots-ocd. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- Albert, Umberto, Baffa, Alessandra & Maina, Giuseppe. Family accommodation in adult obsessive-compulsive disorder: clinical perspectives. Psychology Research and Behavior Management. 2017;10:, 293-304. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.2147/PRBM.S124359. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- Philpot, N., Thwaites, R., & Freeston, M. Understanding why people with OCD do what they do, and why other people get involved: Supporting people with OCD and loved ones to move from safety-seeking behaviours to approach-supporting behaviours. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. 2022;15, E25. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-cognitive-behaviour-therapist/article/understanding-why-people-with-ocd-do-what-they-do-and-why-other-people-get-involved-supporting-people-with-ocd-and-loved-ones-to-move-from-safetyseeking-behaviours-to-approachsupporting-behaviours/3E13BA0D3184AD230BD41711D01447C9. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- Del Casale A, Sorice S, Padovano A, Simmaco M, Ferracuti S, Lamis DA, Rapinesi C, Sani G, Girardi P, Kotzalidis GD, Pompili M. Psychopharmacological treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Curr Neuropharmacol. 2019;17(8):710-736. http://www.eurekaselect.com/article/92384. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- FDA permits marketing of transcranial magnetic stimulation for treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. US Food and Drug Administration. August 17, 2018. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-permits-marketing-transcranial-magnetic-stimulation-treatment-obsessive-compulsive-disorder. Accessed May 7, 2023.