How to Help a Loved One Who Has OCD
Watching a loved one struggle with OCD can be both heart-breaking and frustrating. You may be tempted to say, "just stop!" when observing their overt compulsions, or when being asked for reassurance. However, it is important to remember during these moments that individuals with OCD cannot "just stop," or trust me, they would. No part of them wants to feel consumed by compulsions, and while they know their behaviors are irrational, it can feel nearly impossible for them to refrain.
I compiled a list of DO's and DON'Ts for family members and friends to consider when supporting those who are struggling with OCD.
1.) Do help your loved one find proper treatment. According to the International OCD Foundation, it takes an average of 17 years for an individual with OCD to receive proper help. 17 years(!) It is important to look for a therapist who is well-trained and comfortable using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). It will take some research, and what may seem like endless phone calls. It will also take interviewing potential therapists to ensure they are truly qualified to treat OCD symptoms. Unsure which questions to ask? Here's a list to help you get started. OCD treatment is challenging - once your loved one is receiving proper help, it is best to encourage them to stick with treatment, even during the most difficult times.
2.) Do attend a therapy session with your family member (with their permission of course). This will help you further learn about what they are experiencing, and specific ways you can help. You will also have the chance to ask questions, and show you are an ally in their treatment. There are also great books, websites, and resources to independently learn about OCD.
3.) Do acknowledge the small gains your loved one talks about, or that you notice. Treatment for OCD is all about taking one small step at a time - the first of which is usually most challenging. What may seem like small progress to you, may be huge for them. Acknowledging their gains can spur further motivation, and send the message that you are interested in their recovery journey, not just the end result.
4.) Do communicate. While OCD can quickly become the topic of most conversations in families, your loved more is much more than his/her OCD diagnosis. Remember to check in with how your family member is feeling at work, how their day out with Suzy went , or if there is anything they need, unrelated to OCD. Not every anxious and frustrating moment for them will be a result of their OCD symptoms.. We can't read minds, and trying to do so often leads to false assumptions. Practicing good communication is essential for good family relationships, whether OCD is involved or not.
1.) Don't criticize your loved one for taking a step back. They are already upset with themselves, and hearing further disapproval will only add insult to injury, and can trigger loss of motivation to get back on their feet. Recovery is not a straight path, and taking a step back is a normal part of the process. When assessing progress, be mindful to refrain from day-to-day comparisons with respect to symptoms. Daily fluctuations are 100% natural, and expected. It is best to assess progress by comparing how your loved one is coping today, with how they were coping at the start of treatment.
2.) Don't be the Homework Hound. Your loved one will be getting homework in their therapy sessions to complete each week. This is intended to help them face their fears, practice new skills, and learn new behaviors. While it can be helpful to periodically check in on how they feel their assignments are going, completing homework and taking positive steps is a choice your loved one needs to make independently (unless their therapist specifically involves you in an assignment). Forcing treating, including homework, is likely to backfire.
3.) Don't identify your loved one as "crazy," or continuously say their behaviors are "not normal." Trust me when I say your loved one wants to put an end to these behaviors more than you do. Judgmental comments only perpetuates the stigma around getting help, and can further cause him/her to feel even more isolated and alone in their disorder than they already feel.
4.) Don't give up when progress is slow. Remember, your loved one is facing his/her greatest fears head-on. Acknowledge any frustrations you may have, while continuing to be supportive and encouraging. Let them know you will be there for them during both good times and bad. This goes a long way.
5.) Don't accommodate your loved one's OCD. It is important not to engage in their rituals for them, or provide the reassurance they may often seek, but to encourage exposure. Reducing and then eliminating accommodation, and reassurance, is best done under the guidance of a therapist, so that all family members are on board, and understand the rationale for why you are no longer making accommodations that feed the OCD monster your loved one is working so hard to tame.
DISCLAIMER: The blog posts shared on www.StacySmithCounseling.com contain the opinions of Stacy Smith, MS, LPC, and do not reflect the opinions of any organizations or affiliates. While Stacy is a licensed mental health professional, all blog posts on her site are for informational purposes only, and are never a substitute for professional advice catered to your individual needs. Stacy Smith is not liable for any diagnosis, treatment plans, or decisions made based on the information presented on this website.