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Treating OCD With Group Therapy

According to Mental Health America (MHA), from 2019-2020, 20.78% of adults (over 50 million adults) experienced a mental health disorder. However, only 54.7% of adults (nearly 28 million adults) in the United States receive support to address their mental health disorders. One of the contributing factors to this gap in mental health treatment is stigma. The prevalence of public and self-stigma in mental health disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can impede your daily functioning and life satisfaction. Thus, receiving treatment for OCD can play a significant role in building and strengthening adaptive coping skills to support your long-term well-being.

At The Guest House, we believe effectively treating OCD starts with addressing your distress with a holistic approach to care. OCD is often accompanied by trauma and other co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder (SUD). We know focusing on only one condition or disorder leaves little space for true healing when the roots of your self-defeating behaviors are left unaddressed. Through a holistic approach to treatment, you can heal your mind, body, and spirit in tandem and sustain lasting wellness in your life.

The stigma of mental health disorders can understandably lead to fear and hesitation about treating OCD. For instance, you may be worried about discrimination and/or judgment at work, at home, or in your relationships. Moreover, as Internet Interventions notes, thinking about treating OCD can be difficult when your mental health literacy (MHL) is low. A lack of MHL can lead to misidentifying symptoms, insufficient knowledge of support resources, and shame based on misconceptions. Thus, increasing your knowledge of OCD can give you insight into how it impacts your life and well-being.

With knowledge, there is power to deepen self-awareness and understanding of yourself. Then, treating OCD can give you the adaptive tools you need to lead a fulfilling life. When you have access to holistic care, whole-person healing can happen as you address the intersectionality between life experiences and OCD. The first step toward advocating for your long-term well-being is understanding what OCD is and how it may impact your functioning in daily life.

What Is OCD?

According to Medline Plus, OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by uncontrollable recurring thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions). Although many people may experience distressing and repetitive thoughts, it does not disrupt their lives. Similarly, rumination is not always an indication of a mental health disorder, as intrusive thoughts can be triggered by short-term stress or anxiety. Yet, distressing thoughts and behaviors in OCD are persistent and rigid in their compulsion.

Untreated OCD can cause significant disruption in every part of your life. The need to engage in specific rituals is, as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes, time-consuming, deeply distressing, and impairs your ability to function at work, school, and in your relationships. Moreover, the repetitive behaviors are typically tied to fear of a dire consequence that will happen to you or a loved one if you do not complete the ritual. Thus, treating OCD starts with recognizing the signs and symptoms of the disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

Treating OCD presents an opportunity for you to let go of shame and deepen your self-understanding. With that opportunity, you can have the space to better understand how your intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors have impeded your well-being. Listed below are some of the common or most well-known obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD:


  • Fear of germs or contamination by other people or the environment
  • Excessive worry about harm to yourself or loved ones
  • Fear of losing control over your behavior
  • Aggressive thoughts toward yourself and others
  • Fear of losing, discarding, or misplacing things
  • The need for precise organization and symmetry
    • Things need to be lined up exactly
    • Items must be arranged in a particular way
  • Unwanted, taboo, and disturbing sexual thoughts and images
  • Forbidden and taboo thoughts and fears about religion


  • Excessive or ritualized cleaning, hand washing, showering, and or brushing teeth
  • Need to repeatedly check on things
    • Checking if the door is locked
    • Double-checking if the oven/stove is on
    • Fliping light switches on and off
    • Checking appliances
  • Ordering and arranging things in precise and particular ways
  • Number based rituals
    • Counting numbers
    • Repeating numbers
    • Excessive preference for certain numbers
    • Avoidance of certain numbers
  • Repeating certain words silently
  • Constantly seeking reassurance and approval
  • Many experience avoidance behavior in an effort to avoid distress and triggers for obsessions and compulsions
    • Certain people, places, and situations

In addition to common obsessions and compulsions, OCD can also be accompanied by other disorders and conditions. As Medline Plus notes, some of the other disorders and conditions that can co-occur with OCD include:

  • Generalized anxiety
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Panic disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Tourette syndrome and other tic disorders

The signs and symptoms of OCD along with other potential disorders are deeply distressing and impair your ability to lead a fulfilling life. Much like rumination and intrusive thoughts, certain habits and rituals are not necessarily signs of OCD. For example, deep breathing, stretching, and a daily walk can be healthy rituals that you build to support your physical and mental well-being. On the other hand, OCD rituals are uncontrollable, impair daily functioning, and cause more distress than relief.

Moreover, while a 2% global prevalence of OCD may sound small, OCD is a common condition that impacts many people’s daily lives. The signs and symptoms of OCD typically manifest in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. While boys tend to present with symptoms earlier, there is a higher prevalence of women with OCD in adulthood. Regardless of sex, symptoms of OCD can fluctuate over time, and obsession and compulsions can even change as well.

The fluctuations in the presentation of OCD symptoms can make treating OCD difficult when you do not fully recognize the extent of your symptoms. Therefore, understanding how OCD develops and how symptoms function can support treating OCD for your long-term well-being.

Treating OCD and Its Root Causes

For many people, the symptoms of OCD can start slowly and even go away for a while or worsen over time. In addition, stress can play a role in the worsening of symptoms of OCD and contribute to trigger-based avoidance behaviors. You may find it easier to recognize your symptoms if they appear in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, awareness of the irrationality of your symptoms does not always lead to treating OCD.

Due to the fears associated with judgment and mistreatment from mental health stigma, you may choose unhealthy coping strategies to manage or ignore treating OCD. You might avoid situations that trigger your OCD, or you may even self-medicate with substances in an attempt to alleviate your distress. Moreover, treating OCD can be complicated if your symptoms initially manifest in childhood. When a child has OCD, they may not recognize that their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are unusual. A child with OCD may be certain that something bad will happen to themself or their family if they do not complete certain compulsive rituals.

Whether your OCD symptoms manifested in childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, or even later, understanding the roots of its causes can help you better understand yourself. When you have more self-awareness and self-understanding, you can build healthy coping tools to support treating OCD. The root causes of OCD are not always clear, but like most disorders and conditions, there is typically more than one factor that can contribute to your difficulties. Listed below are some of the risk factors associated with the development of OCD:

  • Genetics:
    • Family member(s) with OCD
      • One or both parents
      • A sibling
  • Biology:
    • Differences in brain structure
      • Impact ability to control behavior and emotional responses
  • Individual temperament:
    • Certain feelings and behaviors in childhood may be more likely to develop OCD
      • More reserved behaviors
      • Experiences more negative emotions
      • Signs of depression and anxiety symptoms
  • Childhood trauma:
    • Difficulties coping with the distress brought on by traumatic experiences
  • Other environmental factors:
    • Complications during pregnancy and or childbirth

While the combination of potential risk factors for OCD may be overwhelming, recovery is possible. Treating OCD can provide tools for symptom management to support your ability to function in your daily life. Moreover, access to community support like group therapy can help you find connections and understanding through shared experiences. However, stigma about mental health and therapy may have left you with misconceptions about what and how group therapy works.

As noted in “Group Counseling Common Misconceptions” from Northeastern Illinois University, some of the misconceptions and inaccurate perceptions about group therapy include:

  • Being forced to share deeply personal thoughts, feelings, and even secrets with relative strangers
  • “My anxiety will prevent me from getting the most out of group therapy”
  • “People will judge me or attack my beliefs and or feelings”
  • Group therapy is not as effective as individual therapy
  • “It will take longer for me to recover because I have to listen to other client’s stories” or “I will not get the opportunity to talk”

Now, you may wonder if these are misconceptions, then what actually happens in group therapy? Further, how can group therapy play a role in treating OCD?

What Is Group Therapy?

According to Group Therapy by Akshay Malhotra and Jeff Baker, group therapy is the treatment of several clients at once by one or more clinicians. Group therapy can be used to treat a variety of conditions like trauma, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Moreover, as the American Psychological Association (APA) points out, a group can have anywhere from five to fifteen clients for an hour or two every week.

While you can attend solely group therapy, many clients utilize both individual and group therapy to support their specific needs for healing and recovery. Furthermore, group therapy promotes a plethora of therapeutic factors that support treatment and recovery, such as:

  • Universality: Recognizing that others who share similar thoughts, feelings, and issues exist
  • Altruism: Improving your self-concept by helping others
  • Instill hope: Witnessing other group members’ success helps you envision your own success
  • Imparting information: You learn knowledge and information from your peers and clinicians
  • Explore healthy family dynamics: You have the opportunity to recreate family dynamics in a controlled environment
  • Socialization techniques: You learn appropriate ways to interact with others
  • Intimate behavior: You gain new insight and understanding about yourself and others by observing your peers
  • Cohesiveness: You feel support, trust, and belonging with your peers
  • Existential factors: You realize you have agency over your life decisions
  • Catharsis: Sharing your personal experiences from the past and present
  • Interpersonal learning: Through feedback from your peers, you deepen your understanding of your interpersonal impact on others
  • Self-understanding: Learn to understand the covert factors that influence your behavior and emotions

Additionally, group therapy works to meet the following treatment goals:

  • Helps facilitate your growth, comfort, and function in the group
  • Supports goals for life outside of the group
    • Adaptive and appropriate behavior
    • Develop interpersonal and relationship skills
    • Increase wellness literacy
    • Learn preventative measures and coping skills
    • Improve ability to function effectively in daily life

When you think of group therapy, your first thought might be the group sessions you see in movies and TV shows for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA and other substance use treatment programs commonly incorporate group therapy into their treatment programs. However, group therapy is not strictly used to address substance use disorder (SUD). There are many different types of groups for group therapy, including:

  • Psychoeducational groups:
    • Educates clients on their diagnoses
    • Encourages you to stay committed to your treatment plan
    • Teaches you how to avoid maladaptive behaviors
    • Provides tools that encourage positive behaviors
  • Skill development groups:
    • Promotes life skills needed for lasting wellness
      • Coping skills
      • Emotional control
      • Socialization techniques
  • Cognitive-behavioral groups:
    • Focuses on changing maladaptive learned behaviors
      • Alter beliefs and perceptions
    • Changes self-perception
      • Shift negative thoughts about the self to positive thoughts
  • Support groups:
    • Provides ongoing support after treatment has started
      • Helps maintain new adaptive behaviors
      • Reinforce new adaptive belief system and thought process

The different forms of group therapy help highlight the value of group therapy as a tool for healing and recovery. Group therapy can be a supportive tool for SUD and mental health disorders to dismantle self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. Thus, group therapy can be a valuable treatment tool for treating OCD.

Benefits of Treating OCD With Group Therapy

Even though the idea of sharing your obsessions and compulsions can be distressing, the long-term benefits can be life-changing. As Nicola Petrocch et al. state in “Compassion-Focused Group Therapy for Treatment-Resistant OCD,” OCD is a mental health disorder that can easily turn into a treatment-resistant condition. The obsessive and compulsive aspects of the disorder can make treating OCD difficult when the brain gets stuck on a specific thought or behavior. While treating OCD with medication can reduce symptoms, it is not a cure-all.

The inclusion of individual and group therapy can support skill-building that helps manage OCD symptoms. As noted in “Efficacy of Group Psychotherapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder” by Dominique Schwartze et al., group therapy can be effective for treating OCD through shared lived experiences. Group therapy can foster a sense of belonging as you interact with peers who experience similar difficulties with treating OCD. In addition, a compassion-focused approach to group therapy can be beneficial in cultivating compassion for yourself and others.

The stigma surrounding mental health and treating OCD can lead to shame, guilt, self-criticism, depression, and self-isolation. It is always easier to be unkind and hold unrealistic expectations for ourselves than others. The criticism you inflict on yourself is far removed from how you would think of or treat another person dealing with the same challenges as you. Therefore, finding belonging can be particularly valuable in treating OCD because being surrounded by other people sharing their experiences with treating OCD reminds you that you are not alone, broken, or less than others.

The Value of Community in Treating OCD at The Guest House

At The Guest House, we believe a group setting gives you the opportunity to make meaningful connections and bond for long-term healing. Group therapy gives you the tools and community to foster compassion for yourself and others. Through a community of peer support, you and your fellow group members encourage and motivate each other to work through challenges. Moreover, with feedback, you and your fellow group members can learn from each other’s experiences and build adaptive coping tools together.

We are committed to providing a holistic approach to care to address your specific needs for treating OCD. Through holistic care, we can offer a wide range of therapeutic modalities that support your long-term healing in mind, body, and spirit. Supporting individual treatment with group therapy and therapeutic modalities like yoga and adventure therapy is an important part of our commitment to building community in a space where trust, self-love, and self-forgiveness are possible for healing. With increased self-reassurance through group therapy, you can support your long-term healing.

The time-consuming and distressing nature of the obsessions and compulsions of OCD can impair personal, work, school, and relationship functioning. Moreover, stigma surrounding mental health and OCD can increase feelings of shame, guilt, and self-criticism about your disorder. Group therapy can be a vital therapeutic tool to help dismantle maladaptive thoughts and feelings about yourself. Through group therapy, you can find belonging and build compassion for yourself and others through shared experiences. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing whole-person care to help you build a path to healing that supports self-reassurance and adaptive coping to support your long-term well-being. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn how treating OCD with group therapy can help you.