How Long Does OCD Last?

OCD is a Chronic Illness With No Cure

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If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you may wonder how long it will last and how long treatment might take until you can get your symptoms under control.

How Long Does OCD Last?

OCD is chronic, which means that it is an illness that you will potentially be dealing with on some level for the rest of your life, just like someone with asthma or diabetes.

There is no cure, so while you can certainly get control over your OCD symptoms, and perhaps even recover, OCD can start up again at any time, particularly if you don't actively employ the coping strategies you may have learned in psychotherapy and/or if you stop your prescribed medications. 

How Long Does it Take OCD Therapy to Work?

This is a difficult question to answer as there is often a great deal of variability from person to person with respect to how quickly they experience a decrease in their OCD symptoms once engaging in psychological therapy.

Much of this variability relates to how severe your symptoms are, how faithful you are in completing the homework assignments, the skill of your therapist, your relationship with the therapist, and your insight with respect to the impact of symptoms, as well as your motivation to get symptoms under control.

That said, generally speaking, most people with OCD can expect to have to complete between 12 to 20 therapy sessions to realize a clinically significant decrease in their OCD symptoms.

More often than not, booster sessions are required to maintain gains made in therapy. Moreover, at the outset of therapy, it can be helpful to have sessions twice weekly, rather than once, to build momentum.

When undertaking cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), it is not unusual to initially experience greater anxiety than you did before you started therapy.

This is natural and is a result of finally confronting many of the feared thoughts, objects or behaviors that you previously avoided. Many people report a significant drop in symptoms early in therapy, with slower and steadier gains as therapy progresses. However, this is certainly not always the case and there are many ways to progress “normally” through therapy.

If you're experiencing especially severe symptoms, including engaging in rituals most of the day or being unable to leave the house because your obsessions or compulsions are so bad, a prolonged course of treatment, sometimes for months, in an inpatient intensive treatment program may be advised. In these cases, you would receive a massive dose of psychotherapy through the completion of daily exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) for months at a time.

Your Own Personal Influence Over Your Recovery

The good news is that you can greatly influence how long it takes you to benefit from psychotherapy. The more consistent you are in attending therapy sessions and the more homework assignments you complete on your own, the faster you will see results.

Remember getting well is only half the battle; you need to make sure that you take steps to stay well too.

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