5 Common OCD Alternative Treatments and Therapies

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Although there are currently a number of effective medical and psychological treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), these treatments don't work for everyone. As such, there has been great interest in developing new treatments for OCD or using new methods to improve the effectiveness of existing treatments. 

St. John's Wort

Alternative medicines such as herbal remedies have been growing in popularity in both Europe and North America. Many people with anxiety disorders such as OCD have tried alternative therapies at one time or another.

One of the most common herbal remedies for anxiety is St. John's Wort. Because antidepressants that target the serotonin system, such as Paxil (paroxetine) and Anafranil (clomipramine), are effective in treating OCD, it has been suggested that St. John's Wort, which is said to also have natural antidepressant qualities, could be an alternative therapy for reducing OCD symptoms.

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS, is a relatively non-invasive procedure that has received considerable attention as a possible alternative treatment to reduce OCD symptoms.

Repetitive TMS involves placing a small device directly on the skull. This sealed device contains a coil of wire that carries electricity. The flow of electricity through the device causes cells in the brain called neurons to become either more or less active. The activity level of neurons has been linked to symptoms of mental illness like OCD.

Supplementing Behavior Therapy With D-cycloserine 

Psychotherapeutic techniques such as exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) are highly effective in treating symptoms of OCD. However, these treatments do not always work for everyone. Also, the challenging nature of behavior therapy and the associated cost cause many people to decline or drop out of treatment.

Given this, there has been a lot of interest in identifying ways that behavior therapy can be made both more effective and accessible for more people. One possibility may be to supplement behavior therapy with medication. A medication that has generated a lot of interest with respect to this is the drug D-cycloserine.

Exercise and OCD

We all know that aerobic exercise has great physical benefits, including reduced cholesterol levels and lowered risk of heart disease and diabetes. Now there is significant evidence that physical activity may also help to reduce symptoms of mental illness.

Indeed, it is now known that aerobic exercise can be used therapeutically to improve mild to moderate symptoms of depression, as well as reduce overall stress and anxiety levels. Recently, preliminary studies have also examined whether aerobic exercise is helpful in reducing the severity of OCD symptoms.

Deep Brain Stimulation for OCD

Although a number of medications and psychological therapies are available to treat OCD, it has been estimated that between 25% and 40% of people will not respond satisfactorily to these traditional treatments. In the past 20 years, the development of sophisticated brain imaging technologies, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), has led to explosive growth in our knowledge of the inner workings of the brain.

Results of these investigations have begun to explain the biological and anatomical basis of OCD. In particular, these studies have suggested that treatments targeting specific circuits in the brain could be helpful in reducing OCD symptoms in those people who have severe symptoms and do not respond to traditional treatment. Deep brain stimulation may offer such alternative treatment.

If you or a loved one are struggling with OCD, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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