How to Help Someone With OCD

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
11/17/2022

In the media, and in the minds of a lot of people, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, has become the butt of many jokes or just a cute personality quirk. 

We’ve seen it in TV characters that wipe down their lunchbox handle and sandwich bags with disinfectant. Or they might get irritated when someone else puts a book back on the shelf in the wrong spot.

These are real and valid forms of OCD, however, this condition is more than a quirk. It’s a real medical illness that can have negative impacts on a person. 

Instead of minimizing a person’s experience, take time to understand what OCD is. 

Understanding OCD is the first step to helping someone through it. Learning how to help someone with OCD can have a significant impact in their ability to function healthfully in everyday life. 

What Causes OCD

One of the first questions you might have for someone with OCD is, “What caused it?”. The truth is that doctors don’t really know.

Some studies have shown that some people are simply predisposed to it through genetics or their brain biology. Scientists are working towards identifying exactly what portions of the brain or which genes are responsible for OCD.

What they do know is that a person is significantly more likely to develop it if a sibling or parent has it. They also know that people with OCD often have an abnormal frontal cortex and subcortical structures. 

OCD is often associated with trauma. So far, the consensus is that trauma triggers it in those who are predisposed to OCD, but it doesn’t cause it. 

What Does OCD Ritualistic Behavior Look Like

Again, OCD is common in pop culture. But there is far more to it than keeping things neat and tidy.

Obsession vs. Compulsion

The ‘Obsessive’ part of OCD is intrusive thoughts. These thoughts and fears can’t be ignored. Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts, but people with OCD take them as truth. 

The obsession with germs and tidiness, while shown on TV as quaint behaviors, are real types of OCD. The Mayo Clinic breaks obsessive intrusive thoughts into several categories. They are: 

  • Fear of contamination or dirt
  • Doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty
  • Needing things orderly and symmetrical
  • Unwanted thoughts, including aggression, or sexual or religious subjects
  • Aggressive or horrific thoughts about losing control and harming yourself or others

Because these intrusions are very real to those with OCD, they develop ritualistic behavior to keep them at bay, or lower the risk that they present. 

These behaviors are the ‘compulsion’ aspect of this disorder. They can temporarily relieve anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts.

They’ll usually correlate to the type of obsessions that someone experiences. For example, someone with intrusive thoughts about germs might wash their hands constantly to alleviate their anxiety about hygiene. 

However, sometimes these ritualistic behaviors might not make sense to others. People struggling with OCD may need to do certain checks or rituals a certain number of times. This might look like obsessive counting or checking if the door is locked over and over again.

How to Help Someone with OCD

Now that you know OCD presents itself in many ways and to varying degrees, you might notice a friend or family member is living with it. If they’ve asked for support, or they seem to be struggling, here are ways to help someone with OCD:

Understand How OCD Affects Them

If you noticed some of these patterns in your loved one. Don’t be accusatory, but  talk to your loved one about their ritualistic behavior. They may not know or be open to discussing how or when it started, but they might be willing to discuss how OCD affects them. 

It might even help reduce some anxiety for them to know that they have a caring friend with whom they can be free to process and navigate their obsessions and compulsions. 

A temporary measure to also help with the anxiety is to work with the compulsions. Wash your hands more frequently and keep spaces as clean as possible. Don’t move their things. Let them count without interruption.

Encourage Help, Don’t Tell Them to ‘Stop’

Encourage them to speak to a therapist or psychologist in good faith—it’s not about your feelings on the matter, it’s about them wanting a better quality of life. 

Always check in about their boundaries in these situations, but you can help them by looking up therapy options or nearby counselors that specialize in OCD treatment. 

It can be scary for someone dealing with OCD to go to treatment. Simply letting you know you are with them and willing to lending a hand might give them the confidence boost they need to get started.

Be Patient With Ritualistic Behavior

OCD might be something you can’t wrap your head around. You might get frustrated or tired with the repetitive behaviors. Remember that this isn’t about you—it’s about your friend or family member dealing with uncontrollable obsessions and compulsions.

Think of it this way: would you feel hurt if a friend stopped hanging around because he was tired of you walking too slow with a broken leg? Sometimes it helps those around a struggling individual to think about mental hardships similarly to physical ones. 

Stick With Them Through Treatment

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one proven method to treat OCD. Like all treatments, it won’t reverse anything in a single session. CBT works by ‘rewiring’ your brain to process thoughts differently. 

It can be a difficult process, and patients often have homework to do outside of therapy. Check in with the loved one going through it. You can encourage them without being pushy. 

Take Care of Yourself

It’s extra hard to be supportive if you feel your mental health declining. Sometimes helpers need help. You can find support groups that work with people close to those diagnosed with certain mental health disorders. 

Also take time to de-stress in your own way. Relax. Eat Healthy Foods. Take a walk. Shut off that cell phone for a few minutes. Someone else’s struggle with OCD isn’t about you, but you can’t be the help they need when you are entrenched in your own battles

Be Supportive When They Choose to Seek Help

Another way to take care of yourself is to seek counseling. It’s an extremely beneficial step for everyone to get their minds in the right place to be a support system. 

Inner Balance Counseling has therapists that specialize in CBT. Once your loved one decides it’s time to seek treatment, we can help. They can request a consultation to get started. 

Whether you need specialized treatment or general mental health counseling, we’re here with you. Reach out. Show up. Feel better.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
Owner & Trauma Therapist

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