What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a mental health condition that is characterized by a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive, unwanted, and distressing thoughts or urges that repeatedly enter someone’s mind. They often provoke anxiety or discomfort. Some common obsessions are fear of contamination or germs, fear of harming self or others, fear of making a mistake, and a need for order.

The second part of OCD is compulsions, which are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that are done in response to obsessive thoughts. Compulsions help to reduce the anxiety and discomfort that is caused by the obsessions, but the relief is temporary and the cycle repeats. Some common behavior compulsions are excessive handwashing, checking things repeatedly, counting, or arranging objects in a certain way. Mental compulsions can look like counting, praying, or repeating words silently.


OCD can significantly impact and interfere with a person’s daily functioning and quality of life due to the amount of time that is spent on each. Those with OCD often know that their obsessions are not grounded, however, they still feel the need to engage in compulsions to help reduce anxiety. While everyone occasionally experiences intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors, those thoughts and behaviors are time-consuming and interfere with daily life in those with OCD.


How can EMDR help those with OCD? Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach that was initially developed to treat trauma, but there is emerging research suggesting that EMDR may be beneficial for those with OCD, regardless of co-occurring trauma. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, to decrease the intensity and emotional charge of negative memories and past experiences. It can be used on thoughts, emotions, past events or future events and fears. EMDR can be used to target specific symptoms and challenges that are common for those with OCD. A few different ways that EMDR can be used to treat OCD are:

1. Target current OCD obsessions and compulsions: It is helpful to target the most distressing or severe symptoms first. This can decrease the intensity and frequency of obsessions and compulsions. It can also bring up memories that may be at the root of different obsessions and compulsions.


2. Target Previous Memories: Someone may have memories associated with the start of OCD symptoms or memories that increased symptoms. EMDR can help reduce the emotional charge of these memories, which can in turn reduce the symptoms and the impact they have on everyday life.

3. Target future situations: People with OCD may be able to think of future situations or fears that may trigger obsessions and compulsions. By using bilateral stimulation while focusing on these, EMDR can help reduce the fear and anxiety surrounding the possible future situations. It can also increase a person’s ability to cope with emotions and decrease obsessions and compulsions if those future situations do happen.

4. Increase coping skills: Part of EMDR is focusing on increasing coping skills to help handle strong and distressing emotions. These emotions can often cause an increase in obsessions and compulsions. By increasing someone’s ability to cope with these emotions, it can reduce the intensity and frequency of OCD symptoms.

It’s important to remember that OCD is a spectrum and those with it may experience symptoms to different degrees that may change over time. No matter how severe a person’s obsessions and/or compulsions are, OCD can, and often does, impact multiple areas of life, including school or work and relationships.

A potential benefit of EMDR for someone who experiences OCD is that it makes it easier for them to handle any distressing feelings that are cause by refraining from doing a compulsion or of feeling out of control with obsessive thoughts. Because the way that OCD presents and is experienced is different from person to person, it is important to talk to a therapist to discuss the possible benefits of EMDR. If you are tired of the way obsessions and compulsions are impacting your everyday life and ready to try something different, EMDR can be a good therapy option for you.

We review more here regarding the ways that EMDR Center of Denver utilized EMDR and additional types of therapy for OCD treatment depending on each individual’s specific goals and needs.

Want to more fully explore options for better managing OCD? We are here to help. Schedule your free 15 minute consultation with us today.

Gessica Cross, LCSW

Co-Owner and Licensed Therapist

Gessica Cross has helped people find  greater joy and healing from prior trauma, anxiety,  and depression, as well as processing sexual and/or gender identify and life transitions. She is formally trained in EMDR and graduated with a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Illinois with honors. She moved to Colorado after completing a post-graduate fellowship in India in which she provided pro bono work among survivors of kidnapping, abduction, and human slavery. She has specialized in helping people recover from situations of trauma, depression, and anxiety for the last ten years. She is excited to work with you!

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