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Treatment for OCD: Systematic Desensitization

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, can become crippling to one’s life. The disorder affects millions of people all around the world, and can affect an individual’s ability to function. The disorder manifests itself as a person experiencing uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (Obsessive) or uncontrollable repetitive actions and/or behaviours (Compulsions) — such as washing one’s hands many, many times.

There are numerous symptoms associated with obsessive compulsive disorder and the nature of OCD can be spectral. It should be noted that not all rituals or compulsive thoughts are necessarily indicative of the presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, it is the constant presence of these thoughts and actions in one’s day-to-day life which could mean that the individual has some form of OCD.

How can it be treated?

OCD can be managed in a variety of ways: the two main ways are medication — one of the main ones is SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The other way in which to treat OCD is through psychotherapy. Systematic desensitization is an evidence-based behavioral type of therapy that is used for the management and treatment of OCD.

What is Systematic Desensitization?

Systematic desensitization is also known as graduate exposure therapy and is not only used for OCD sufferers, but also people who have other phobias.

It is a process of slowly increasing the exposure of an individual to an ever-progressing level of stimuli that they would usually avoid. For example, for sufferers of OCD, depending on the individual circumstances, psychotherapists may systematically expose their clients to a particularly unclean environment, or a particularly messy pile of laundry. This is if the individual’s particular predisposition is to either fold clothes several times over to ensure peak neatness, or to clean an area several times to ensure zero germ contamination.

The goal of the treatment is to expose the client to ever-increasing levels they find anxiety-inducing to eventually reduce the degree of anxiety experienced as they progress through the treatment. Over time, systematic desensitization may reduce the fear response.

The steps to desensitization

The first step is learning and being guided through varying relaxation techniques. The OCD sufferer is taught relaxation techniques that can help control compulsive responses to obsessions.

The second step helps the client and treatment provider determine what sets off the anxiety that creates the compulsions. Together with Dr. Danielle Forshee, Psy.D., , an ODC hierarchy will be generated which will assist in deciding which trigger, obsession and compulsion affects the client the most. We will then conduct a behavioral assessment in session to determine all facets of thoughts, beliefs and compulsions associated with the OCD. As a part of the behavioral assessment, the client will be asked to think about a scenario that occurred earlier in the week that produced an OCD response, and the client will provide a percentage rate what their level of anxiety was for this situation.

After the assessment phase, the treatment phase begins. This may look like the client looking at a photo of what produces an OCD response; asked to stand outside the room and look at the mess; then walking over towards the mess, and finally touching the mess. This is just one example of many- the client and Dr. Danielle Forshee, Psy.D., will come up with a unique progression that makes sense for your situation.

In general, systematic desensitization takes clients through their anxiety-provoking situations so anxiety can be more controlled throughout the process. Once the client feels calm in one of these steps, they move on to the next – and so on. The goal is to not feel much anxiety (if at all) when presented with your trigger.

If you are suffering from OCD, you may benefit from an appointment with Dr. Danielle Forshee, Psy.D., for an assessment to determine if this evidence-based treatment may be right for you. Dr. Danielle Forshee, Psy.D., can provide this treatment in the environment that you request, and which makes sense based on your symptoms.