If you or a loved one lives with perinatal OCD, there are treatment options that work and can help you to feel better. Research studies to date have shown that people with perinatal OCD respond just as well to the same types of treatments that work for “garden variety” OCD.
Mental Health Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure and response prevention (ERP) is the gold standard treatment for perinatal OCD. The exposure in ERP refers to intentionally exposing yourself to the thoughts, images, objects, and situations that make you anxious and/or start your obsessions. The response prevention part of ERP refers to making a choice not to do your compulsive behavior(s) once the anxiety or obsessions have been “triggered.”
All of this is done under the guidance of a trained, licensed therapist at the beginning and eventually you will learn to do your own ERP exercises to help manage your symptoms. Over time, when you don’t do the compulsive behaviors, you will actually feel a drop in your anxiety level. This natural drop in anxiety that happens when you stay “exposed” and “prevent” the compulsive “response” is called habituation.
Benefits to ERP: No physical side effects, more effective than medications alone, lower symptomology following treatment and longer maintenance of treatment gains.
Potential Cautions: There are fewer appropriately-trained ERP providers, so it might be hard to find someone qualified. It is also an “active” intervention that will require you to work hard, and may not always feel good or be easy.
The types of medication that research has shown to be most effective for OCD in general are a type of drug called a Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SRI), and more specifically Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). You may have heard of these types of medications called “antidepressants,” but they help to address OCD symptoms too! SSRIs on their own are effective for the treatment of general OCD, but are usually less effective than CBT/ERP.
Benefits to Medication: Easier to access; can be prescribed by any licensed medical provider (including your OB/GYN or PCP), though these providers might not feel comfortable going up to OCD therapeutic dose (higher than SSRIs used for MDD, etc.).
Potential Cautions: Though current findings appear to be safe, long term risks to unborn children or breastfeeding infants is unknown, rebound symptoms possible when ending medication if therapy is not also employed.
Support groups are great places to meet others who’ve had similar experiences and understand what you are going through. They are a place where you can give and receive support around a common issue and find comfort in a community that gets it. Support groups are also a great option for your family members!
Benefits to Support Groups: Seeing that you are not alone in what you are going through, and meeting others who understand what it is like to live with perinatal OCD. You can learn tips and tricks for managing your life with perinatal OCD in a safe, supportive space.
Potential Cautions: While support groups can be a great addition to your treatment journey, they likely will not be enough to help your symptoms improve on their own. Make sure to pair attending a support group along with therapy and/or medication!
How to Find Treatment
Now that you know what types of treatment and support are available to you and helpful for perinatal OCD, where do you start in finding them? Toggle between the three tabs below to learn more:
A licensed mental health provider, or a “therapist” — this person can have a variety of different titles and/or credentials, including those below:
- Psychologist (e.g., PhD, PsyD, EdD)
- Social worker (e.g., LICSW)
- Counselor (e.g., LMHC, LPC)
- Marriage and family therapist (e.g., LMFT)
>> To find a therapist who specializes in working with OCD, use the IOCDF’s Resource Directory
>> To find a therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health in general, use Postpartum Support International’s (PSI) Provider Directory
If you are having trouble finding a therapist on your own, check in with the rest of your care team (e.g. your primary care physician, your OB/GYN, or even your child’s pediatrician) and/or your insurance provider to see if they have any suggestions. Read through the How to Find the Right Therapist article for tips on how to “vet” potential therapists, including questions you can ask them as you make your decisions.