OCD patients benefit from family-inclusive treatments, says FIU psychologist

One in 40 adults in the United States have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). That means that among the 54,000 students at FIU, more than 1,300 have OCD.

OCD is a neurobiological disorder – it invades the thoughts of those who suffer from it. The repetitive, intrusive and unwanted thoughts triggered by OCD cause intense distress and often cause individuals to engage in repeated behaviors, rituals or routines that only result in short-term relief.

According to the World Health Organization, OCD is one of the world’s top 20 causes of illness-related disability for individuals between the ages of 15 and 44. College students who suffer from OCD, may find it dramatically interferes with academic performance, romantic relationships and overall quality of life.

OCD“The vast majority of individuals experience some degree of obsessional thoughts or compulsive behavior – and sometimes mild forms of OCD-like symptoms can even be useful and help us. But when OCD symptoms start to become impairing and interfere with someone’s daily functioning, family life, work life or overall quality of life, clinical attention is warranted,” said Jonathan Comer, associate professor of psychology and director of the Mental Health Interventions and Technology Program at FIU’s Center for Children and Families.

Comer has done extensive research on OCD and effective treatment options – the most effective being cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is a form of psychotherapy where therapists focus on the present issues rather than on the factors that may have caused the disorder. They take an active role in helping individuals challenge negative patterns in their thinking and help them make necessary changes in their problematic behavioral patterns.

“CBT involving exposure and response prevention is particularly helpful,” Comer said. “ Patients are confronted in therapy with the very things that make them anxious or uncomfortable, and therapists work to help their patients refrain from engaging in compulsive or ritualistic behaviors.”

In addition to therapy sessions, which focus solely on the individual suffering from OCD, there are family inclusive treatments (FIT) that implement evidence-based methods in a family context. Family members of individuals with OCD can often get drawn into troubling patterns of accommodation – they may change their own behavior and routines to reduce or prevent the OCD sufferer’s distress. The FIT approach encourages loved ones to directly work with patients on challenging their OCD symptoms and finding alternate ways to cope.

“We were really struck by how positive the impact is when involving family members in OCD treatment,” Comer said. “It not only reduces the specific OCD symptoms that bring individuals into treatment, but involving family members also has powerful effects on overall individual and family functioning, as well as on general quality of life.”

Comer recently published a meta-analysis of family involvement in the psychological treatment of OCD in the Journal of Family Psychology. His research calls for the development of innovative methods to expand the availability and accessibility of family inclusive psychological treatments for OCD.

If you are a student and need help coping with your OCD symptoms, visit the office of Counseling and Psychological Services.