When someone is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), therapy is highly recommended to help them identify and modify intrusive thoughts that may be leading to problematic behaviours.
As a person starts their treatment, it is important that they are able to feel the support and guidance of those closest to them. Maartje Suijskens, counselling psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai, has looked at how you can help a person who is going through the OCD treatment process.
While this blog offers guidance, it is important that therapy is still undertaken to help make a real difference to the person that you care about. This can include individual therapy as well as family therapy sessions, where you become involved in the process so that everyone feels supported, helping to achieve the best possible recovery.
What are symptoms of OCD?
OCD is a psychiatric and psychological mental health issue of two parts – obsessions and compulsions:
- Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, which can be very distressing to experience
- Compulsions are behaviors someone uses to reduce or avoid the discomfort that comes from the obsession
Many people experience minor unwanted thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, such as worrying about leaving the gas on or their front door unlocked. They can also develop strategies to escape minor obsessions, such as avoiding cracks in the pavement.
With OCD, people become locked in an obsessive-compulsive cycle which can have a huge impact on how they function and their quality of life. Remember, disorder describes something that is not as stable as it should be - it is out of order.
OCD guidelines for family members
When someone in your home is suffering from symptoms of OCD, your entire household can be affected.
As a parent or sibling, you want to help the person you care about so they feel safe and happy. However, you need to be careful about enabling a person with OCD.
For example, you may feel pressured to take part in their rituals. While this may seem helpful and rewarding at first, it can cause major interruptions in the long term. By taking part in their rituals, you end up helping the person maintain their OCD symptoms and increase the disorder’s influence and control over their life.
What you should and should not do
Recognise the symptoms
The person with OCD may appear fine on the outside. However, they may be experiencing a wave of intrusive thoughts, so be aware of any ritualistic or patterned behaviours.
Remember that these behaviours are signals of OCD and are not personality traits. Avoid being critical and instead be accepting, as it is the OCD and not the person. Symptoms can also get worse when a person is criticised or blamed, as these emotions can lead to them feeling more anxious. The more anxiety someone feels, the more they will use compulsions in an attempt to cope with these feelings.
It is important to strengthen the relationship between you and the person with OCD, to promote understanding and cooperation.
The person with OCD needs to feel loved and supported. You may be advised to use ‘tough love’ as part of their treatment, where you don’t participate in behaviours that make them calm in the short term. This can be hard to do, but keep in mind that you are helping them in the long run, as becoming involved will only increase their dependence on others.
It is crucial for the person to get the chance to recognise that they can calm down on their own. This will give them more confidence and will increase their self-esteem. Avoid becoming a problem solver, and instead be their coach.
Keep your family routine
Don’t change routines or expectations around the house. Minimise your accommodation to OCD to the point where you don’t participate in compulsions or rituals.
Always explain to them why you will not participate in the rituals. For example, you can say “I know that you are experiencing a lot of stress at the moment and I know that you want me to help you by solving the issue. I love you and that is the reason I will not participate in your rituals and help solve the problem for you, as participating will not help you long term”.
Your family member may not always be accepting, so prepare to face the consequences. Be firm, empathic, consistent and always follow through. Remain calm and remember, it is not them doing it, it is the OCD.
Consider using a family contract
You can work together with a therapist to develop realistic plans for managing the OCD behaviours, where goals are created for the family to help reduce conflict. Include ‘alone time’ in the contract, as it is important for everyone in the household to have their own space and to be able to spend time on their own.
Keep communication clear and simple
OCD symptoms are triggered by doubt and a person with OCD may try to acquire total certainty about a problem where a clear answer cannot be provided. This is the essence of OCD, and it can be part of treatment to help a person to accept uncertainty in life and move on.
Make helpful comparisons
Avoid making day-to-day comparisons and instead look at overall changes since their treatment began. Keep the bigger picture in mind and recognise small improvements that the person makes as they recover.
People with OCD have reported that change can be stressful, even when it is positive. When someone with OCD does become distressed, this can cause symptoms to increase or intensify.
If you see that the symptoms are getting worse, explain to the person why change is happening and make it situation-related. For example, you can say “you have been going through many changes which can be stressful and challenging.” Doing so can be validating, encouraging and supportive for the person.
You should encourage your family member to push themselves and to function at the highest level possible. Just make sure that the person’s actual ability matches the tasks, otherwise this can create more stress which can lead to symptoms worsening.
Slow, gradual improvement may be better to help prevent relapses from happening.
Maintaining family life
The most important thing to remember is the significance of being present and supportive to the person with OCD in a way that will help them in the long term.
Focus on finding a balance between helping your loved one to manage or deal with their OCD symptoms, and at the same time maintaining a happy family life where the right care and attention is available for everyone.
Getting access to support and treatment
If you are struggling with OCD symptoms or are worried about someone close to you, it is important to seek help. Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai can provide you with an environment that is relaxed, friendly and sympathetic to your concerns so that you can get treatment for OCD in a way that is compassionate and encourages your beliefs that you can make positive changes.
For further information on how we can help, you can call our team in confidence on (+971) 4 245 3800 or submit an enquiry form to receive a free telephone consultation with us.