What is the Most Effective Treatment for OCD?

There are various therapies for OCD, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy, as well as medications to supplement treatment. But while these options hold plenty of potential for your recovery, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. In residential treatment, you can find a multifaceted solution that addresses your struggles. With the help of a caring, compassionate team of professionals committed to your well-being, you can pave the way to a better, brighter future.

Although the severity of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is sometimes undermined by cultural misconceptions, if you live with it, you know how much of a challenge it can be. But while the idea of a “cure” can be comforting, the reality is that this a complex condition that cannot be remedied by a couple of doses of medication or a few therapy sessions.

Why? Because there is no perfect “cure” or one-size-fits-all “best” treatment for this (or any) mental health disorder. If you go into a doctor or psychiatrist’s office with this frame of mind, you’ll find that the medications you may be prescribed or therapies you’re encouraged to try aren’t going to make your disorder suddenly disappear. However, these treatments can help you learn to better manage and cope with the symptoms of your disorder and live a fuller life—if they are integrated into a larger comprehensive treatment program that addresses all facets of your disorder, including your unique personal needs and obstacles.

Therapies for OCD


As you begin to consider the potential of treatment, you’ll find that there are many different kinds of therapies for the many forms of OCD. At first, this can be overwhelming, but it’s an important part of your journey as it sets the trajectory for your healing process. You might come across one that works for you right off the bat, or you might have to try out a few before finding the most suitable one. If you fall into the latter category, it’s easy to feel discouraged after the first few attempts. That’s why the first crucial step when beginning a comprehensive treatment program is the diagnostic portion.

These in-depth diagnostic assessments are the most effective way to paint a comprehensive, accurate picture of your mental health. This includes co-occurring disorders and addictions that might be connected to your OCD. Once an accurate diagnosis has been established, a professional team will use a combination of medical supervision and therapeutic modalities to address all of the problems at the root of your disorder. If anything isn’t working, they will determine why, and pinpoint a solution that could work better. Compared to outpatient therapists, a residential treatment program is safer, more controlled, and better equipped to address the challenges created by complex disorders like OCD.

Although every person’s treatment will be unique and vary depending on their specific challenges, there are two techniques that tend to serve as the cornerstones of OCD treatment. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is the most common and is effective on around 80 percent of patients. Another one is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which has been shown to curb OCD and help those living with it regulate their emotional responses.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

One of the most common therapies for people struggling with OCD, CBT focuses on the nature of the thoughts in your head and how they affect your behavior. By identifying and changing maladaptive ones into positive ones, you can change your habits and coping mechanisms for the better. ERP is ideal for OCD and involves exposing you to situations that trigger your obsessions and learning how to deal with the compulsions that stem from them.

For example, common triggers for obsessive thoughts regarding cleanliness include objects in public places that are used often and by many people, such as pens and door handles. If you’re in ERP therapy, you will be asked to expose yourself to these situations and resist the compulsive behaviors (such as excessive hand washing). Typically, you will create a list of your obsessions prior to therapy and rank them in terms of fear. Over the course of your treatment, you will tackle those that you’re least afraid of first and work your way up to your biggest fears.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

While CBT is undoubtedly the most common therapy for OCD, it doesn’t work for everyone. Originally developed for treating Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), DBT is based upon the belief that unwanted feelings must be accepted non-judgmentally. If you have OCD, this approach can be very helpful. It can teach you strategies to tolerate distressful triggers, regulate negative emotions, and ultimately become more mindful of your obsessions and their ability to translate into detrimental compulsions.

Unlike ERP therapy, DBT doesn’t address obsessions and compulsions directly. Instead, it focuses on developing coping skills that help you deal with and accept the connection between these two facets of the OCD. Consider emotional regulation: your therapist will ask you to non-judgmentally observe and describe your emotions during periods of obsessive thought. During this process, you will learn to focus on the facts of the situation around you, rather than your emotional responses to the situation, and act based on the reality of the situation, rather than the picture your OCD paints of it. In combination with the other coping skills mentioned above, you will gain better control of how you feel and, in turn, your obsessive thoughts.

Gaining control of OCD isn’t easy, but the rewards are lifelong, and you’ll see yourself in a light that you probably never thought possible. “I realized I didn’t know who I was—not really,” says Candace, who was diagnosed with OCD while she was still in high school. “I made it one of my goals in therapy to get to know myself—to figure out what I wanted and what sort of person I was besides just someone with OCD.” It took several years and multiple outpatient therapists before Candace enrolled in a local residential treatment program and finally began to feel she was making some progress. “I’d always thought if I went to therapy for a few weeks, did the work, and took my pills, I’d be able to walk away OCD-free if I just found the right therapist. It took several months in a long-term treatment program to show me that’s not quite how it works. You don’t cure OCD. You heal, you grow, and you learn to live your life with it and in spite of it.”

There is no shortcut, nor one right path, to the kind of discovery that Candace speaks of—it’s something that can only be acquired with time, patience, and effort.

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Medications to Supplement Treatment


Often, the most effective means of treating OCD involves a combination of both therapy and medication. Antidepressants are the most common type of medication prescribed for OCD, especially:

  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)

These drugs work by increasing levels of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that regulates mood—in your brain. This boost is believed to have a positive effect on those living with OCD, as it decreases the anxiety associated with obsessions and that fuels compulsive reactions to triggers.

A Multifaceted Solution


Much like OCD, treatment is complex. It will likely consist of a combination of therapies and medications that bring out the best in you. Some will become a part of your life for the long haul, while others will act as stepping stones that reveal better alternatives. Accepting this process as multifaceted and constantly shifting is crucial, as both you and your relationship with your OCD will also evolve over time. But discovering the best treatment modalities on your own is difficult, especially if you’re already struggling to function in your daily life.

A comprehensive residential treatment program will provide you with the best possible advice and tools to get this lifelong journey off on the right foot. Therapies such as CBT and DBT will give you the tools and coping skills needed to accept your obsessive thoughts and change your reactions toward them for the better. You will also learn the benefits of unique holistic treatments like yoga and pottery, which together with therapy will help you develop coping mechanisms and healthy habits that will facilitate positive change.

At the end of the day, you will have the tools needed to take control of your OCD and a network of personal and professional supports to fall back on when times get tough, both before and after treatment. It won’t be an easy road, but with a little guidance and as much support as you need, you’ll be able to find your way and acquire knowledge and benefits that will stay with you long after your initial treatment program ends.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.