Barriers to Seeking OCD Treatment

Understanding Potential Challenges to Getting Help

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Although there are many effective treatments available for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), research suggests that only about one-third of people actually seek help for their OCD. Here we investigate why.

Barriers to Seeking Help for OCD

Studies examining why people don’t often seek help for OCD have revealed that there are many challenges or barriers to seeking treatment.

  • Not Knowing Where or How to Get Treatment. People with OCD often say that they do not know where to seek treatment. Sometimes, even if they do know where to go, they may not have the financial resources necessary to pay for psychotherapy or other treatments. There are resources to help with financial difficulties, such as reduced costs for medication and therapists who provide treatment using a sliding scale fee, as well as resources to find places to get help. 
  • Thinking Symptoms Are Not Severe Enough. It is not uncommon for people affected by OCD to put off going to the doctor unless they see their OCD symptoms as severe or experience multiple problems in addition to OCD, such as depression or panic disorder. Sometimes people don't want to admit that their symptoms are impacting their lives and that treatment can vastly improve their quality of life.
  • Fear of Change.  Change can be tough, especially when you're already dealing with an anxiety disorder like OCD. Getting help may feel like giving up control over your life, but it can actually help you gain more control. 
  • Embarrassment. Understandably, people with OCD are often secretive about their problems and may be embarrassed about revealing the content of their obsessions to other people, especially if they have obsessions that deal with sex, violence, aggression or hoarding. Keep in mind that therapists have heard it all and are trained to help you get control over these upsetting thoughts and behaviors. 
  • Fear of Rejection. People with OCD fear the negative reactions or even rejection of others.
  • Fear of Discrimination. Although it is illegal to discriminate against people with mental illness, people struggling with OCD are often worried that their illness will be used against them. For example, being fired is a common fear.
  • Intimidation. For people with OCD who are visible minorities or whose first language isn’t English, visiting a physician or psychologist to discuss treatment options may be too intimidating.
  • Not Recognizing OCD Symptoms. There are some lesser-known symptoms of OCD that may make it difficult for a person to recognize that they have OCD. There are actually a variety of ways in which OCD can manifest itself and many of the symptoms are not as recognizable as hand-washing or counting. These include procrastination, constantly seeking reassurance, a hard time making decisions, and asking questions repeatedly

Where Can I Find OCD Help?

If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of OCD, your first step should be to make an appointment with your family doctor to discuss treatment options. He/she can most likely refer you to a mental health professional.

OCD Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

Mind Doc Guide

In addition, there are a number of online resources that can help you locate the assistance that you need:

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Locating Services: An online tool from the National Institute of Mental Health to help you locate mental health services.

Treatment Providers: An online tool to locate treatment providers specializing in the treatment of OCD from the OCD Foundation.

Support Group Search Tool: An online tool to locate OCD support groups in your area.

OCD Intensive Treatment Programs: A list of OCD-intensive treatment programs within North America.

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Article Sources
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  • Belloch, A., del Valle, G., Morillo, C., Carrio, C., & Cabedo, E. “To Seek Advice or Not to Seek Advice About the Problem: the Help-seeking Dilemma for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2008 (published on-line)

  • Goodwin, R., Koenen, K.C., Hellman, F., Guardino, M., & Struening, E. “Helpseeking and Access to Mental Health Treatment for Obsessive-compulsive Disorder.” Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica 2002 106: 143-149.