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Coping When a Family Member has OCD

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Updated July 28, 2009

As the family member of someone with OCD, it can be difficult to know what is the right thing to do, what to say or how to cope. Here are some tips for family members of people with OCD.

Get informed – It is essential that you learn as much as you can about OCD so that you are better able to understand the symptoms and suffering that your family member is experiencing.

While there are a number of excellent books available, it may be helpful to ask your family member if you can join them for an appointment with their psychiatrist, psychologist or family doctor. Meeting together can provide a forum to get answers to any questions you might have. The Internet can also be a valuable source of information; however, make sure you stick to reputable websites in which the content is reviewed and/or authored by medical experts (like the sites here at About.com Health). University affiliated hospitals often have excellent resources for patients and their families, as well.

Get involved – Although many family members have the best of intentions, it is not uncommon for family members to be enablers of the affected family member’s compulsions. For example, family members often participate in a particular ritual in hopes of reducing the family member’s anxiety. Knowing how CBT and exposure and response prevention treatment works and understanding that your family member’s anxiety must get worse before it gets better can be very helpful. Many health providers encourage family members to attend OCD therapy sessions, and some feel it is absolutely necessary.

Get support – Don’t go it alone. OCD can be a frustrating illness, and it is essential that you surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through and are willing to listen when things get rough. Other family members, family support groups, and on-line communities can all be valuable sources of support.

Get help – It can be difficult to cope with a family member’s OCD, especially if their symptoms are severe or have been going on for a long period of time. Over time, feeling overwhelmed can lead to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and ultimately depression. Put your psychological health first and check in with your family doctor or psychologist if you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed or anxious. You will be in the best position possible to help and support your family member if you make sure you are looking after your own mental health.

Be honest – Although it sounds simple, it can often be very difficult to talk openly and honestly to your family member about what you both are going through. The nature of their obsessions or compulsions may be embarrassing for them to discuss, or you may feel you run the risk of hurting their feelings. Sometimes family members can feel selfish for even bringing up their own struggles. It is essential, however, to keep the lines of communication open and make no subject “untouchable.” Talking through difficult issues with an objective third party present such as family doctor, psychiatrist, councilor, psychologist, nurse or social worker can often take the pressure off.

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