How Can EMDR Help You For OCD?


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychological disorder that affects millions of people around the world, taking a toll on their lifestyle. For many, it doesn’t just impact them but also the people around them. While there are other treatments as well for this condition, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has emerged as a viable treatment for OCD, especially for people with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder). 

There have been many trial studies proving the benefits of EMDR for trauma victims, single-trauma victims, in particular. Now, growing evidence is also pointing towards its benefits for those simultaneously battling with OCD. And this impact lies in the fact that OCD can also result from trauma. 

Before we talk about how EMDR can help with OCD, let’s talk about what OCD is and how it’s linked with PTSD. 

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves unwanted and unnecessary thoughts or sensations that drive certain repetitive behavior. The thoughts and sensations are obsessions, while the behavior is the compulsion. This disorder can impact a person’s lifestyle and social interaction. 

Common examples of OCD include obsession with cleanliness, order, time, colors, or appearance. Not being able to perform those actions or act on the compulsions results in stress, anxiety, and anger for such individuals. 

For instance, repeatedly washing hands may qualify as OCD. If such an individual isn’t able to wash their hands, it may trigger stress and anxiety. 

This distress from not being able to act on the compulsions cannot be reduced with logic or reasoning because of the obsession. In simpler words, people with OCD cannot control these thoughts and the consequent actions. 

Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish such behavior from common habits, but psychologists usually define certain behavior as OCD if:

  • The compulsion takes at least an hour of the day
  • Not doing it causes stress or anxiety
  • It’s out of control
  • It interferes with work, social, or personal life

PTSD and OCD

While psychologists and doctors don’t know the exact cause of OCD, they have identified a number of risk factors, one of which is past experience with trauma. This is why it’s not surprising that 30 percent of people with PTSD also suffer from OCD.

Other risk factors include family history with OCD, depression, anxiety, or physical difference in particular parts of the brain. 

There’s a need for more research into the link between PTSD and OCD, but the prevalent belief is that trauma can trigger OCD-like symptoms. Both PTSD and OCD may result from a traumatic experience in the past or abusive childhood. 

For example, a traumatic event like a car accident, rape, or death of a loved one induces both PTSD and OCD symptoms. How these symptoms manifest and the degree of severity may vary from person to person, but there’s a strong connection between the two. It’s also important to note that both can induce stress or anxiety as a symptom, which may help explain the connection psychologically. 

Many OCD patients can trace back their symptoms to a traumatic event. Interestingly, one study from the Journal of Anxiety Disorders noted that people with post-traumatic OCD had more severe symptoms as compared with people with OCD prior to or without any occurrence of trauma. 

It’s clear that compulsive behavior that qualifies as OCD can follow trauma, in addition to the usual PTSD symptoms. This can obviously make the situation graver for such individuals as they not only deal with stress and anxiety causing triggers from the trauma but also through the compulsive behavior in daily life. As a result, they are more susceptible to emotional stress and problems in their work or social lives. 

Can EMDR Help With OCD?

Now that we understand that OCD is linked with trauma as well for many individuals, could it be that the therapy that works for PTSD may also work for OCD? Some studies suggest that EMDR can benefit people with post-traumatic OCD. 

One study in the International Journal of Psychotherapy discovered positive results from using EMDR therapy for patients with post-traumatic OCD. EMDR helped with the treatment by reducing the stress, anxiety, compulsions, and obsessions of such individuals. 

Typically, the treatment for OCD is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). The specialized CBT for treating OCD, in particular, is called Exposure and Ritual Prevention (ERP). This is the most common treatment used by psychologists for people with diagnosed OCD, and it’s known to be effective. 

One randomized controlled trial also compared EMDR with CBT for the treatment of OCD. The results from this particular study, which was published in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, showed comparative results from the two therapies. There were no significant differences between the outcome in the two groups, immediately after the study and on a six-month follow-up. 

These studies don’t go deep into how exactly EMDR helps with OCD, but the results do show a favorable outcome and prove that EMDR can indeed benefit people with OCD, especially those who suffered from trauma. 

There’s a strong possibility that EMDR therapy treats and reduces OCD symptoms the same way it works for PTSD triggers by targeting the traumatic memories of the person and how they perceive them. As in such individuals OCD symptoms are strongly linked with their PTSD, treating one may consequently impact the other as well.  

For people with resistant OCD symptoms, a combination of CBT and EMDR may prove beneficial. 

EMDR Options for OCD

Strong research and trial evidence point to the efficacy of EMDR for both PTSD and OCD. Many patients with traumatic history and OCD symptoms also report improvements. So there’s a lot of promise in this particular therapy for such individuals.

EMDR is delivered by therapists who may or may not be certified by the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA). This therapy expands over eight stages, delivered through eight or more sessions of up to 90 minutes. 

It’s best to work with a therapist who has some training in EMDR, but such therapists may not be available everywhere. This is where virtual EMDR comes in, where patients can self-administered EMDR therapy through a tool consisting of audio and video guides, along with controlled bilateral stimuli. 

Our virtual EMDR tool is designed to deliver the same exact protocol as completed by therapists during in-person or online sessions. Using the same stages and procedures, the tool allows individuals with PTSD and OCD symptoms to complete the therapy in the comfort of their homes. This accessibility, flexibility, and affordability mean that more people can benefit from EMDR for treating their psychological disorders and improving the quality of their life. 

If you suffer from OCD, you should consult a psychologist or therapist to find out if your OCD springs from a traumatic event in your life. If it’s post-traumatic OCD, EMDR can prove immensely beneficial for treatment. 

The Takeway

Both anecdotal and research evidence shows promise in EMDR for OCD treatment. EMDR, as a therapy, has long been hailed as a quick and effective way of managing and treating single trauma-related PTSD. For people who also suffer from OCD as a result of trauma, it can also help with their OCD behavior. 

The use of both ERP and EMDR may impart even better results, as ERP is considered the most successful treatment option for OCD. 

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