Last week we went into detail about the specific types of treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but today I’d like to share a story of hope and healing.

Joe’s Journey to Wellness with Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

Several years ago, Joe started worrying about germs while he was at the grocery store. He would scrub the cart clean with the disinfectant wipes. As time went on, his fear of germs continued to grow to the point where he would spend hours cleaning the counters and floors in his own home, he was showering several times a day, and he couldn’t go to the grocery store or any other place where food and people would be simultaneously. His family was concerned and encouraged him to talk with his doctor who prescribed him medication and referred him to a mental health counselor who treats Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Joe started seeing Kate for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to treat his OCD symptoms. After the initial session to establish care, the two of them spent time gathering information about how anxiety shows up in Joe’s life and Kate provided some education around the mechanics of anxiety and how CBT can help. Next, the two explored more of the specifics of Joe’s obsessive thoughts and rituals. They made a list of these on a scale of most distressing to least. This became a template for their CBT work together. Joe would practice exposure to the item on his list that he found least distressing, and would continue this work over and over again until it was no longer upsetting to him.

It Takes Work but it’s Worth It

CBT is a lot of work and, particularly at the beginning, Joe would find himself discouraged. Thankfully, he and Kate were careful to create supports around him who were there to lend encouragement when the work got tiring, and who would remind him of how far he’d come.

As their work together continued, Joe began to identify other ways of dealing with the distressing thoughts. Most importantly, he became aware when his obsessive thinking would interject itself, and was able curtail previous automatic obsessions. The success he gained with each item checked off his list, helped create enthusiasm and confidence as he moved forward to tackle the next most distressing item. Each victory led to another until he reported that his levels of distress were minimal and manageable. He was able to grocery shop again, and his time and energy was spent focused on things that were important to his life moving forward, not his prior obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions.

What Else Can I Do To Help?

Change takes time and effort. At times it may feel overwhelming or exhausting. It’s important to remember to treat ourselves kindly and with self-compassion during this work.

We should stay in good contact with medical providers to be sure the right medication and dosages are being utilized.

Mindfulness practices help keep us in the here and now. There are many ways to practice mindfulness: taking a moment to identify what our five senses notice around us, time spent in contemplative prayer, a  three minute break to focus on our breathing, spending a half hour on a coloring sheet- just to name a few. You can find more ideas and free mindfulness resources online, as well.

This is an ideal way to feel more attune with our minds and bodies and how our anxieties shows up in our day to day. We can start to identify patterns and find ways to release the built-up tension.

Healthy sleep gives us the best playing field to coping with OCD. Being well rested contributes to a calmer mind and a greater ability to handle stress as it comes. If you have trouble with sleep, talk to your medical provider about ways to improve this.

OCD treatment can be difficult at times and requires a lot of courage and determination. Building a support network around you who you can go to during the difficult times can be very helpful. This group could be made up of family and friends and could also have peers from local support groups. Here are a few in the Vancouver/Portland area:

OCD/Anxiety Group for Adults-
Portland OCD and Anxiety Center. Weekly low-fee group for adults with various types of OCD and related anxiety based disorders. Follows the structure of CBT modalities including Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and Cognitive Restructuring. Requires an evaluation prior to participation. For more information, please contact 503-704-6101.

Portland OCD and Related Disorders Support Group-
Support Group for people with OCD related disorders and family members. Professionally led group meets on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of the month from 7:00- 8:30pm at OHSU. For more information, please contact James Hancey, MD at 503-494-6173

Portland OCD Support Group-
OCD support group meets Thursdays from 5:00-7:00pm. The group utilizes the latest techniques from Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Exposure with Response Prevention and is co-led by two licensed psychologists. Contact Robert McLellarn at 971-645-0033 for more information.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Southwest Washington-
Offering Peer-to-Peer support, Family-to-Family support, Psychoeducation, and advocacy. For more information visit their website at:

Don’t give up! There is always hope for healing a transformation.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12 (NIV)

Next Steps:

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