Online OCD Therapy: How does it Work?

Do you feel like you’re losing control over your life?  Do you find it hard to focus on your goals because you’re overwhelmed by scary or unsettling images and thoughts that give you anxiety? Are you tired of relying on repetitive behaviours? Dealing with OCD can be exhausting and prevent you from living life to the fullest. Luckily, the recovery is possible and more accessible than it ever was before. 

In this blog, you’ll find more about OCD therapy conducted online, why it works, and how it can help improve your overall quality of life, so you can go back to spending energy on what’s important to you!


What is Online OCD Therapy and What to Expect?

Online therapy for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can reduce OCD symptoms just like in-person therapy does as it follows the same principles. For OCD, the best treatment option is a talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that targets your thinking and behaviour. Therapy will help you become gradually desensitised to feared situations and intrusive thoughts without relying on repetitive behaviours. The key is to teach your brain that nothing terrible will happen if you don’t perform a compulsion and thus reduce anxiety.

The length of the therapy will depend on the severity of your symptoms. If they’re mild, you can expect to see significant improvements within 10 sessions.

Does online OCD Therapy Work?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the therapy of choice for OCD as it’s been found to effectively reduce OCD symptoms. [1] More research is needed on the effectiveness of online CBT for this particular disorder. However, studies that looked at internet-based treatments with the support of a therapist show promising results: improved functioning and decreased OCD and depressive symptoms. [2]  Additionally, there’s evidence that online CBT is highly effective in treating other disorders such as depression and anxiety, even with minimal therapist support. [3] [4] Since similar techniques are used to treat anxiety and OCD, you can expect online OCD therapy to be highly beneficial.

Online OCD Therapy Sessions: How Do They Work and What Do They Focus On?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a form of treatment that relies on the belief that your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are interconnected. However, contrary to what you might think, its goal isn’t to eliminate intrusive thoughts completely but teach you to manage them instead. In therapy, you’ll learn that intrusive thoughts don’t have to be significant and that everyone has thoughts or images that might seem disturbing sometimes. Most people just ignore them. You’ll be encouraged to look at these thoughts from a different angle. When working with your therapist online, they might ask you to list your distressing thoughts in a shared document and give them a less negative meaning. For example, you might choose to believe you’re a creative person instead of focusing on potential danger. 

Addressing The Vicious Cycle of OCD with Online Therapy

 What happens if you don’t get any help? If the uncomfortable thoughts aren’t ignored or simply let go of, you can find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle of anxiety. When you assign too much importance to a thought, it reappears and might soon become an obsession. As unwanted thoughts generate anxiety, it’s natural to resort to behaviours that can help lessen it. For example, you might think, “What if the house is going to be set on fire while I’m asleep?” and then seek reassurance by performing various tasks such as checking if the stove is turned off or unplugging all appliances. This might give you short-term relief but will turn into a long-term strategy that increases both unwanted thoughts and anxiety. By carrying out these compulsive tasks, you teach your brain to be relieved once they’ve been performed. In other words, you subconsciously start to believe that being safe is associated with engaging in compulsions and not performing them means danger. 

Online OCD therapy can teach you strategies to help you tolerate the discomfort associated with not performing the compulsive tasks. Apart from challenging the belief that you’ll be in danger if you don’t perform compulsions, another effective method is known as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) in Online OCD Therapy

ERP is a technique meant to expose you to your fears gradually without fighting intrusive thoughts. There are great ways in which ERP can be performed online. 

For example, your therapist might ask you to boil water right before the session starts and tell you to turn it off as the session begins. You’ll be then encouraged not to check if the stove is turned off. This kind of exercise might be easier to do in online therapy than when working with a therapist in person. In fact, the most common compulsions are something you do at home and having someone watch you might prevent you from giving in. You’ll then discuss the feeling of anxiety with your therapist. Of course, this is just an example. You’ll start facing your fears gradually, and your therapist will pick the most manageable tasks first.  During your first sessions of online OCD therapy, you’ll discuss your intrusive thoughts and obsessions to choose those you want to focus on.

You’ll also be asked to practise outside of sessions: if you’re afraid of germs, for instance, the first step might be to start washing your hands less frequently.

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What are the Advantages of OCD Therapy Online?

Online therapy is becoming as popular as face-to-face therapy as it’s a more convenient way to achieve the same results you’d achieve when working with a therapist in person. One of the main benefits is that you can find a therapist who offers treatment best suited to your needs even if they live in another city or country. It’s also a great option if you have a busy lifestyle as it lets you save time because you no longer must commute. Similarly, if you have any mobility issues or disabilities, this kind of therapy allows you to explore your problems in a safe, familiar environment.

The benefits of Online OCD therapy are:

1 – A reduction in obsessive thoughts and behaviours will result in less distress – as you’ve learnt from this blog, your thoughts and behaviours trap you in a vicious cycle that fuels your anxiety. If you reverse the process, you’ll be more relaxed and have more time to focus on work, family, friends and pursue your hobbies instead of being consumed by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

2 – A better understanding of OCD and the way symptoms affect you will help you develop coping skills – when you’ve struggled with OCD for a while, you might not even notice your obsessive behaviours and thoughts – they simply become a part of your everyday life. Additionally, you engage in compulsions because you subconsciously believe they’ll lessen the anxiety. Learning that’s not the case will be a first step to overriding that coping strategy.

3 – An improved quality of life: improved mood, becoming better equipped to handle negative emotions – as your anxiety diminishes thanks to newly acquired coping skills, you’ll be able to enjoy life more. You’ll seek less reassurance from loved ones and perform better at work – no more getting distracted by noises and taking frequent breaks to wash your hands.

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Tips to Prepare for Online OCD Therapy

While online therapy offers the same kind of treatment you’d receive in person, there are a few extra things you have to consider before your first session:

  1. Make sure there are no interruptions 

 There’s nothing more stressful than a poor Internet connection during your first session, so make sure your internet is fast enough. Similarly, if you live with other people, let them know you’re going to need them to be quiet during a particular time

 2. Make sure your environment is tidy

 Minimise the distractions – tidy up your desk and clean your room to avoid getting distracted during the session. 

 3. Consider what you’d like to get out of the therapy (“The Magic Pill” question)

The prospect of starting to work on your problems might be overwhelming, but it’s essential that you have an idea of what goals you’d like to achieve. The easiest way to gain some clarity is to imagine you’re no longer struggling with OCD. What would you be doing differently? What wouldn’t you be doing? Perhaps you would be able to leave the house without worrying you hadn’t turned off the kettle? Maybe you’d feel well enough to apply for your dream job? Write the ideas down and mention them to your therapist. 

4. Check your devices work fine

Lastly, make sure that your microphone and camera are working correctly. Log into the software you’re going to be using and test your audio and video equipment beforehand.

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Improving OCD with the Help of OCD Therapy

Dealing with OCD can seem like a never-ending battle, but you don’t have to give up just yet. Online OCD therapy is an effective method of treatment that can help you reduce intrusive thoughts and obsessive behaviours, allowing you to live a more fulfilling, anxiety-free life. 

 At Therapy Central, we have qualified therapists that specialise in online OCD therapy. Contact us for a free 15-min consultation to see if our help would fit your needs and read more about OCD Therapy. 

More readings :

Dealing with OCD during COVID-19


Additional links: 

OCD self-help 

Example of exposure hierarchy



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