When Drugs Fail to Treat OCD Exposure Therapy can be Beneficial

By Benjamin Watson (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commo

For people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), taking antidepressants is typically the first method of treatment. However, most individuals who take these drugs do not respond very well. There is a new research study that suggests the symptoms of OCD can be improved through incorporating exposure and response prevention therapy to the treatment protocol.

Study Information

The study was conducted by psychiatric professionals at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the results were published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

OCD is a condition that’s characterized by performing ritualistic behaviors. The thoughts and rituals associated with obsessive compulsive disorder are more than just double-checking locks, these behaviors cause distress and interfere with a person’s daily life.

The obsessions and compulsions caused by OCD are uncontrollable. For example, someone may be obsessed with germs and wash their hands countless times a day. Likewise, a person may well have an obsession with the thought of being kidnapped, so he or she will go around checking all the locks in their home several times per day.

Although most people have a routine or maybe even a ritual or two, there is a huge difference between normal, healthy rituals and the ones associated with OCD. The condition can be accompanied by an eating disorder, depression or anxiety and treatment usually involves medication, therapy or both.
Because many individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder typically don’t respond well to serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications, the researchers wanted to explore exposure and prevention therapy (EX/RP).

These types of treatments are based on cognitive behavioral therapies where a person will confront the trigger for their behavior, in an attempt to curb or stop the associated ritualistic behavior.
In a previous study, the team compared the effects of adding an antipsychotic medication, a pill placebo and sessions of exposure and response prevention therapy.

Professor Carmen McLean, PhD, from the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at Penn, states, “We found compared to patients who received medication or placebo, those who received EX/RP showed significantly more reductions in OCD symptoms and depression, as well as significantly more increases in insight, quality of life, and social function after only 8 weeks.”

The newest study was conducted over a period of five years and involved 32 patients who previously hadn’t received any benefit from antipsychotic medications and who crossed over to receive 17 weeks of EX/RP treatment.

Results of the study showed that after 12 and 16 weeks, the patients had a significant improvement, as measured by the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale.

The team noted the remaining patients required medication changes during the follow up period, which eventually brought about an excellent response.

Findings of the Study

In conclusion to the study, the team discovered that 53 percent of patients were classified as “treatment responders.” Approximately 34 percent of participants were classed as “excellent responders” at a follow up visit eight months later.

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Do you or a loved one feel like you might have a problem with OCD? Take the Self Test now to get more information.

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