Treatments for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Although obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a serious mental illness associated with high levels of disability, there are a number of OCD treatments that will significantly reduce OCD symptoms in approximately two-thirds of affected people. For the remaining one-third of people not helped by standard OCD treatments, a number of alternative and experimental OCD treatments offer new hope.

Options for Treating OCD

Long-term studies suggest that 32—70% of people with OCD experience symptom remission which suggests that recovery is a realistic, achievable goal for some people with the condition. There are a number of different approaches used in the treatment of OCD including:


There are a number of medications that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of OCD. Most of these drugs belong to a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); however, one of these drugs, Anafranil, belongs to a class of drugs called the tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

Although these medications are called antidepressants, they are effective in treating anxiety disorders such as OCD too. These drugs are thought to work by increasing the amount of serotonin that is available within the brain. Problems with serotonin may be a significant cause of OCD.

If you have tried standard OCD medication and not had success, augmentation therapy can help. Augmentation therapy is a strategy being used to improve the odds of relieving OCD symptoms when treating OCD with medication. Augmentation therapy involves using combinations of drugs, rather than a single drug, for maximum effect.

Augmentation strategies could be especially effective for people who do not respond to standard treatment.

Psychological Therapy

Psychological therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder is effective for reducing the frequency and intensity of OCD symptoms. The two main types of psychological therapy for OCD are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and a type of behavioral treatment called exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Over two-thirds of people who complete either form of therapy for OCD notice a substantial decrease in the frequency and severity of their symptoms.

Although individual CBT for obsessive-compulsive disorder is very effective, it can also be very expensive. To cut down on costs, if you are receiving OCD treatment through a hospital or other healthcare settings, you are now very likely to have the option to receive group CBT for OCD symptoms. Although a group setting can initially be intimidating, there are actually many benefits to participating in group CBT for OCD.

If you have looked into CBT and ERP and they don’t sound like a match for you, take a look at acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT is a relatively new psychological therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder that has shown promise in the treatment of anxiety disorders, including OCD. The central philosophy of ACT is that anxiety is part of life and so it is our reaction to the experience of anxiety that can be the real problem.

Other Treatments

It has been estimated that between 25 and 40% of people will not respond to treatment options described above. There are also other potential treatment options for OCD that are less common. Some of these options include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), deep brain stimulation, and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. 

Studies have suggested that treatments targeting specific circuits in the brain could be helpful in reducing OCD symptoms among those people who do not respond to first-line therapies. Deep brain stimulation may offer such treatment.

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS, has also received considerable attention as a possible alternative treatment to reduce OCD symptoms. However, to date, the evidence has been mixed with respect to whether rTMS is an effective treatment.

Neurosurgery is also an option, including neurosurgical techniques such as capsulotomy and cingulotomy, which involve creating lesions on targeted areas of the brain. Such procedures are typically only used after other treatment options have failed to offer sufficient relief. 

Self-Help Strategies

Although treatment for OCD usually entails consulting with a qualified mental health professional, there are a number of OCD self-help strategies that you can start using right now to help you cope with your OCD symptoms.

Given that stress is a major trigger of OCD symptoms, one of the best ways to cope is to learn and practice a number of relaxation techniques.

Finally, while most of us are familiar with the physical benefits of aerobic exercise, including reduced cholesterol levels and lowered risk of heart disease and diabetes, there is growing evidence that exercise can also reduce the symptoms of OCD. 

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Burchi E, Hollander E, Pallanti S. From treatment response to recovery: a realistic goal in OCD. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018;21(11):1007-1013. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyy079

  2. Giasuddin NA, Hossain MJ. Understanding obsessive compulsive disorder and management options. Faridpur Med Coll J. 2020;15(1):38-42. doi:10.3329/fmcj.v15i1.49009

Additional Reading
  • Larson, Paul. Deep Brain Stimulation for Psychiatric Disorders. Neurotherapeutics January 2008 5: 50-58. 01 September 2008.

  • Schruers, K., Koning, K., Luermans, J., Haack, M. J., & Griez, E. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Critical Review of Therapeutic Perspectives. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 15 February 2005 111:261-271. 01 September 2008.

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