COVID-19 has posed many unique challenges for the treatment of mental health concerns. Specifically, treatment for OCD has been significantly impacted by the new telemedicine guidelines.
Information about OCD: Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is commonly diagnosed when a person experiences obsessions and/or compulsions that are time consume or causing severe distress/impairment to one’s quality of life. Obsessions are considered persistent and recurrent intrusive and inappropriate thoughts, impulses, or images that are ignored, suppressed, or attempted to be neutralized with a compulsion. While compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts aimed to prevent or reduce anxiety though not realistically connected to what they are designed to neutralize or prevent anxiety or distress.
Treatment for OCD: Exposure and Ritual Prevention, is the gold standard treatment for OCD – commonly requiring the individual to be exposed to situations that provoke discomfort and target their feared outcome and resisting rituals. This treatment works to teach clients they can tolerate anxiety appropriately through accepting, embracing, and moving towards what is feared.
OCD and the COVID-19 Crisis: Though there are many subtypes of OCD, contamination/cleaning patients has consistently been found to respond fairly better in treatment than those without. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, there has also been increases in contamination related fear, excessive social distancing, excessive washing/showing, and greater reassurance seeking. Realistic vs. unrealistic contamination fear are therefore imperative to consider during the pandemic.
Therapist and patients should therefore consider: What is probably vs. what is actually possible? What is an acceptable risk vs. what is an unacceptable risk? What are current social conventions and societal norms? Experts in OCD treatment therefore recommend others to follow the CDC guidelines and determine whether the benefits of exposure outweigh the risks. These are imperative considerations as excessive compensatory behaviors will increase OCD related symptoms, allowing them to grow.
Lastly, it is crucial that therapists encourage good judgment and safe practices defined by CDC guidelines. Therapists should also be mindful of those who are high risk, such as elderly and immune compromised. With an increase in general stress arising from the global pandemic, therapists must emphasize commonality by expressing that the client is not alone.
Franklin, M. & Park M. (Producer). 2020. Treating OCD during COVID-19: Addressing contamination-related fears [Video]. https://rogersbh.org/resources/treating-ocd-during-covid-19-addressing-contamination-related-fears