Supporting the Individual, and not the Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterised by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are recurring unwanted and intrusive thoughts, impulses and images that one experiences. Compulsions are repetitive behavioural and mental rituals that one feels compelled to perform. Compulsions are usually performed in response to an obsession, with the intention to reduce anxiety or to avoid a feared outcome. For example, repetitive handwashing in response to thoughts of contamination.

OCD is the third most common mental health condition in Singapore, and runs a chronic course if left untreated. Treatment for OCD usually involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. People who suffer from OCD are usually aware that their thoughts and behaviours are excessive and irrational, but finds it difficult to control or resist them, leading to increased distress. OCD can dominate one’s life by taking up a lot of time in a person’s day, and affect their abilities to cope with work, school and relationships. For family members, living with a person suffering from OCD can be difficult, demanding and exhausting. It is not uncommon for family and friends to constantly reassure or to become deeply involved in the individual’s rituals. Often, they may also assume responsibility and care for daily activities that the person is unable to undertake.

How can family members or friends be more supportive and helpful to the person who is undergoing treatment for OCD?

  1. Learn more about the condition and treatment. It is easier to be more supportive, understanding and compassionate towards the person, whose behaviours or requests may sometimes come across as demanding or unreasonable.
  1. No one likes seeing a loved one in distress. However, the best way one can help is to assist your loved one resist doing something that relieves the anxiety quickly. In other words, it may be more helpful to agree with your loved one that you would not provide reassurance and help with their compulsions while he or she is working on the OCD.
  1. Be encouraging if setbacks occur. It is not uncommon to have setbacks during and after treatment.
  1. Symptoms of OCD can exacerbate during periods of stress or major life events. During treatment, try to reduce other sources of conflicts and stress as much as possible.
  1. Allow your loved one to maintain some control and predictability over treatment. Encourage him or her to increase the intensity of treatment, but also to respect his or her pace and not force the individual into doing something he or she does not want to.

Sometimes, despite your best effort, supporting your loved one may be challenging and stressful. In this case, seeking avenues of support and caring for yourself will be equally, if not more important.

Written by:                                                                                        Velda Chen
Clinical Psychologist                                                                    SACAC Counselling


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