Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety-related disorder where a person has frequent and intrusive thoughts that cause fear, uneasiness or worry, often followed by repetitive behaviours and urges aimed at reducing these anxieties. According to the charity OCD-UK, the illness affects up to 12 in every 1000 people (1.2% of the population), and can affect children as well as adolescents and adults. In most cases of OCD, the first symptoms present before the age of 18 years. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP), OCD has three main components:

  1. The thoughts that make you anxious (obsessions)
  2. The anxiety you feel
  3. The things you do to reduce your anxiety (compulsions).

The RCP, as well as the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and the charity OCD-UK, all recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as an effective treatment for OCD. A research paper in the Journal of Psychiatric Research examined the efficacy of CBT for OCD among 756 patients. The study found that CBT had significant impact on primary outcome measures at post-treatment, as well as follow-up some months later. In other words, CBT is able to have a positive impact on OCD both immediately after treatment, as well as in the longer term.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists describes two types of CBT used in the treatment of OCD: 1. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP); and 2. Cognitive Therapy (CT).

The ‘exposure’ bit of ERP means helping the patient to confront thoughts, images, feelings, objects and situations that make them anxious. The ‘response prevention’ bit refers to helping the patient to makes choices when they are confronted by these triggers. Patients commit to not going with their natural reactions to situations that make them anxious and become gradually ‘habituated’ to things that made them anxious in the first place. The theory behind this is that it isn’t events themselves that upset you, but the meanings you give to them.


CBT is usually a short treatment, varying from a number of weeks to 6 months. Sessions are usually once a week and last up to an hour. Together with your therapist, you explore your problems, decide together what you want to work on and then develop a plan of action.

To seek a CBT therapist in the York area, see Psychotherapy & Counselling at York Clinic


Olatunji, B.O., Davis, M.L., Powers, M.B. and Smits, J.A.J., 2013. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder: A meta-analysis of treatment outcome and moderators. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 47(1), pp.33–41. Web: http://tinyurl.com/lnd9s5v