Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors

Whether it's checking the oven repeatedly, washing your hands all the time, hoarding plastic bags, arranging things in a particular order, or pinching pennies, obsessive thoughts and a compulsion to do something can be disruptive to your life. "This is something I can't 'fix' today, but I can give you some education and be a compass for you," says Dr. Phil. "There are less disruptive ways to cope with your anxiety." Acknowledging the research of Dr. Michael Jenike and Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Phil offers the following advice and information.

  • You don't need to conquer this alone. Dr. Phil recommends you see a cognitive therapist, a counselor who treats thoughts as behaviors.
  • A cognitive therapist may introduce you to "exposure and response prevention." With this approach, a person is deliberately and voluntarily exposed to whatever triggers the obsessive thoughts, and then is taught techniques to avoid performing the compulsive rituals and to deal with the anxiety. "If you expose yourself to what would ordinarily make you crazy, then as time goes on, you realize the world doesn't come to an end," explains Dr. Phil.
  • Consult your doctor, who may prescribe medication that has been proven helpful for people with OCD. For more information on anti-obsessional medications, you can find Dr. Jenike's research at
  • Be a willing spirit. "With a combination of medication and cognitive therapy, these cases get under control 85 percent of the time," says Dr. Phil. But it takes time, so don't give up.
  • Change your internal dialogue. When you challenge your own beliefs, you may get a better sense of whether or not they're logical. Because there is no reality — only perception — you can use Dr. Phil's "litmus logic test" as a yardstick for analyzing your thoughts. Ask yourself:
    1. Is this factually accurate?
    2. Is it in my best interest?
    3. Does it protect and prolong my life?
    4. Does it get me what I want instead of what I don't want?
  • If you are living with someone who has OCD, be angry with the disorder — not the person. Without help, they can't make their thoughts or behaviors go away.
  • There is no clear evidence that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is passed on to kids. However, if you create a tense environment where you model anxiety, the effects on children can be numerous. 

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