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How to Help Loved Ones With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Most people at some time fear getting hurt, worry about their loved ones' safety, or shy away from germy situations. But what happens when those fears take over someone's life? People who can no longer control their thoughts or actions may have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Sometimes a person with OCD has a tough time going to school, going to work, or developing  friendships because they cannot control their thoughts or rituals.

Obsessions are thoughts or urges that can cause severe anxiety. Compulsions are acts or behaviors that occur because of those repeating thought and urges.  For example:

  • The thought that germs are getting into the body could cause a person to wash their hands over and over until they are  sore. They cannot stop the thought or the action behind it.   
  • Sometimes a person may need to walk in and out of a doorway a certain number of times until it feels "right" or safe. They fear something bad may happen if they don't do something the "right" number of times even though they don't know what that something bad may be.
  • They might fear they may gain weight so they exercise for hours every day to the point of physical injury.

This is a chronic and long-lasting disorder. There is hope to control this disorder. If your loved one is a PerformCare Member, there is help.

Find a doctor

The first step is to have your loved one visit their primary doctor. The primary doctor will exam your loved one through a series of tests. If the primary doctor does not think a physical issue is to blame, the doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist. This could be a psychiatrist, psychologist,  or counselor.

The specialist will exam your loved one and recommend treatments to help limit OCD's symptoms.

If your loved one is a PerformCare member, they can use our Find a Provider tool to find a provider nearby.

Consider treatment options

There are two main treatment choices for OCD: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. Neither of these will cure OCD, but one or  both could reduce  side effects and help your loved one live a life they want.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT will teach your loved one different ways to deal with their OCD. One way to do this is through exposure and response therapy (EX/RP). In EX/RP, providers will slowly expose your loved one to their fear or obsession in a safe way.

For example, a provider may have someone with a fear of germs put their hands in dirt and then not allow them to wash them for several minutes. They will teach that person how to deal with the anxiety they feel when they actually touch the dirt. EX/RP also helps show Members that their worst fears do not come true when they don't give into their behaviors, such as counting, going in and out of the same door, or checking something over and over.


There are many different medicines that a Provider may prescribe your loved one to help them deal with OCD. Two common medicines are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and a type of serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI) called clomipramine.

These medicines usually treat depression. But they also can be helpful with OCD.

It's important to know that these medicines can have many side effects like:

  • Headaches.
  • Nausea.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Constipation.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Dizziness when standing.

Many times these side effects will go away after the body adjusts to the medication. If your loved one ever wants to stop the medicine, make sure your loved one talks with a doctor beforehand. There are possible side effects to ending medication without notice. Sometimes a different dose can help limit the medicine's side effects while also battling OCD.

Follow through with treatment

Your loved one may become discouraged when they start treatment. The side effects can be hard to deal with. Treatment could take up to 12 weeks or longer to start working.

It's important to encourage your loved one to stay with their treatment.  Stopping suddenly can cause a "rebound" that makes symptoms even worse. Sticking with treatment can also help stop the symptoms of OCD, like tics, rituals, and anxiety. Remember, if your loved one still wants to stop, make sure they speak with their Provider first.

And remind your loved one that with treatment, they can learn to control a disorder that puts their life on hold.

SOURCE: "Obssessive-Compulsive Disorder."