Coping When a Family Member Has OCD

Group of Women Speak to Counselor
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As the family member of someone with OCD, it can be difficult to know how to act, what to say or how to cope. If you feel like you're tiptoeing around your loved one, here are some tips to help. 

Get Informed

It is essential that you learn as much as you can about OCD so that you are better able to understand the symptoms and suffering that your family member is experiencing.

While there are a number of excellent books available, it may be helpful to ask your family member if you can join them for an appointment with their mental health professional. Meeting together can provide a way to get answers to any questions you might have.

The Internet can also be a valuable source of information, but make sure you stick to reputable websites in which the content is reviewed and/or authored by medical experts. ​University-affiliated hospitals often have excellent resources for patients and their families as well.

Get Involved

Although many family members have the best of intentions, it is not uncommon for them to be enablers of the affected family member’s compulsions. For example, family members may help the OCD sufferer avoid the things they fear, which reduces anxiety. Knowing how CBT and exposure and response prevention treatment works and understanding that your family member’s anxiety must get worse before it gets better can be very helpful.

Many health providers encourage family members to attend OCD therapy sessions and feel it is absolutely necessary to help treatment be successful.

Get Support

Don’t go it alone. OCD can be a frustrating illness, and it is essential that you surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through and are willing to listen when things get rough. Other family members, family support groups, and online communities can all be valuable sources of support.

Get Help

It can be difficult to cope with a family member’s OCD, especially if their symptoms are severe or have been going on for a long period of time. Over time, feeling overwhelmed can lead to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and ultimately depression. Put your psychological health first and check in with your family doctor or psychologist if you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed or anxious. You will be in the best position possible to help and support your family member if you make sure you are looking after your own mental health too.

Be Honest

Although it sounds simple, it can often be very difficult to talk openly and honestly to your family member about what you both are going through. The nature of their obsessions or compulsions may be embarrassing for them to discuss, or you may be afraid of hurting their feelings. Sometimes the OCD sufferer can feel selfish for even bringing up their own struggles. It is essential, however, to keep the lines of communication open and make sure no subject is off limits. Talking through difficult issues with an objective third party present such as a family doctor, psychiatrist, counselor, psychologist, nurse, or social worker can often take the pressure off.

By Owen Kelly, PhD
Owen Kelly, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, professor, and author in Ontario, ON, who specializes in anxiety and mood disorders.