Harnessing Hope Via Treatment: The “Cause” And “Cure” for OCD Are More Complicated Than You Think

Recent advancements in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) treatment have discovered a link between a specific protein in the body and OCD—a link which has been distorted by the media into the “cause” for OCD, which in turn suggests (falsely) that there is also a “cure” for OCD looming on the horizon. But the reality of it is much less straightforward, and understanding the complex nature of a mental illness such as OCD and its treatments is necessary for paving the way for an effective treatmentthat will help you find real hope for recovery.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is much more than a tendency for cleanliness—it’s an illness that can make you feel like your mind is constantly being invaded by thoughts that you can’t control. Although compulsive behaviors are carried out to alleviate the stresses created by these thoughts, relief is short-lived, and the feeling of helplessness that accompanies this disorder can become too much to handle for some, sometimes leading to depression and even suicide.

I was scared to look at people,” said Diance, whose OCD causes her to fear that she is not moral enough, believing that she is being judged as sinful by God. “I thought I was offending them by inappropriately glancing at them, and I constantly prayed for forgiveness.” Although Diance has had a long road to recovery with many detours—including a suicide attempt—she has made progress thanks to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has helped her realize how irrational her compulsive thoughts are.

But long roads journeys are often the hardest to endure, and it’s human nature to want the fastest treatment. We all have hope that somewhere out there, there is a cure for our problems, mental health-related or otherwise, and years of therapy often doesn’t seem like the most efficient way to reach this cure.

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The “Cause” of OCD

Our tendency to look for the be-all and end-all solution for problems is exploited by the media, where products and advancements in research are touted as black and white cures and causes. A perfect example of this is the recent finding that highlights a certain protein and its associated signal pathway that could be integral in OCD. A quick scan of the news articles covering the finding shows they all read rather similarly: “German Researchers Discover Cause of OCD,” “Scientists uncover cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder,” and “Cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder discovered,” just to name a few.

So what is this “cause” of OCD? The study in question found that a specific protein is linked to increased activity in a signal pathway linked to “excessive grooming behavior.” In mice without this protein, this behavior, referred to as “OCD-like” behavior, is absent.

The problem doesn’t just stem in the fact that the study was conducted on mice with no current replication in humans, or the fact that it doesn’t account for the other lesser known kinds of thoughts and behaviors that OCD causes, including Diance’s story above. It’s also the notion that OCD can be narrowed down to just onespecific cause, which undermines the complexity of this and other mental illnesses. This, in turn, creates a false sense of hope that gives us the expectation that waiting out there, there is one grand solution—a clean-cut cure that will bypass the long and hard road to recovery and let us skip straight to the part where we get to be “all better.”

The “Cure” for OCD

The reality is that there are no medical cures for these kinds of struggles—disorders like OCD often involve lifelong journeys, and if you’re living with it, accepting this is a crucial part of understanding the importance of treatment and getting the most out of the recovery process. Proper, long-term treatment may not be as convenient or easy as a one-and-done cure, but the extent to which it can improve your quality of life makes it well worth the effort.

A form of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is the most common for treating OCD and involves “exposing yourself to the thoughts, images, objects and situations that make you anxious and/or start your obsessions.” In combination with these kinds of therapies, OCD is typically treated with the Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SRI) clomipramine, which increases serotonin levels in the brain and has shown the best results. Other medications, including some Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), are also used, although there are some that—despite also increasing serotonin levels—have no effect.

The complexity of finding the right medication, treatment method, and therapist to treat your OCD is a process that takes time and patience—which is what makes the idea of a quick cure so appealing. But it’s this unique journey that will bring you to the treatment plan that gives you the relief and hope that you need to overcome the limitations of your OCD and make your way onto the path of recovery.

“Our individual journeys are all so unique, so to me, there will never be a cookie cutter example/technique that fits all,” said Ellen, who lives with OCD. “That’s one of the awesome things about therapy and recovery in general, you can shape and mould it in any way you’d like in order to fit you and your needs at that present time.”

Paving the Way for Effective Treatment

Despite the way that information is distorted in the media, intentionally or not, the finding of the signal pathway connected to grooming behavior in mice and the protein that turns it off stills hold the potential to help in the treatment of OCD. It might not lead us to a cure, but it can help us hone in on specific areas of the brain that might be tied to the disorder and devise new treatments and medications based on these findings.

“Our study delivers a valuable new model that allows the disease mechanisms to be investigated and new therapy options for obsessive-compulsive disorders to be tested,” said professor Kai Schuh, senior author of the study. One of these options is cancer drugs, which are already known to block the signal pathway implicated in the study. “We are wondering whether such drugs could also be effective in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorders and whether they are beneficial in terms of side effects,” added Melanie Ullrich, first author of the study.

As of now, we know that OCD is linked to many neurobiological abnormalities, including an imbalance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamine. Other research highlights the potential for OCD-induced trauma—and in this case, treatments typically focus on reprocessing traumatic memoriesthrough Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

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Finding Hope for Recovery

New studies will continue to expand our understanding of the various underlying causes of OCD and the treatments that can address them, but it’s important to remember that OCD, like all mental illnesses, is complex and multifaceted. The roots of your OCD could be similar to or completely different from other people’s, and the same goes for your obsessions and compulsions. Keeping this in mind, it’s unlikely that there will ever be a “one size fits all” solution.

Although a cure for mental illness is unlikely to ever happen, treatments that can help you manage them and live a happy life and more than accessible. If you’re living with OCD, residential treatment programs can provide you with the environment and tools needed to understand the underlying issues at the root of your disorder and help you on the road to taking control of your obsessions and compulsions. Healing and treatment are possible, and there is hope for recovery—you just need to make sure that you’re finding it in the right places.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Contact us to learn how our treatment plans can cater to your unique challenges and give you the tools to overcome them and live alongside them in happiness.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Aaron Burden