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Treatment - Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a treatable condition.

The type of treatment will depend on your own situation and circumstances. You and your healthcare professional can talk about this and agree on the right treatment options for you.

The 2 main treatment types are:

  • psychological therapy - helps you understand OCD and learn new ways of coping
  • medicine - usually an antidepressant, to change the balance of chemicals in your brain

One or both of these may be best for you. Your GP will help you decide.

Psychological therapy

The most effective treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you manage your problems by changing your patterns of thinking and behaviour. This can help you cope more effectively with your OCD symptoms.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a type of CBT that is used to treat OCD. You learn to understand the triggers for your thoughts and behaviours.

It involves gradually confronting your obsessive thoughts without engaging in compulsive behaviours. This helps your anxiety to reduce over time.

You start with situations that cause you the least anxiety first. You do this before moving on to more difficult thoughts. This is called graded exposure.

The treatment can be difficult and may sound frightening, but people do get better.

CBT and talking therapies


You may need medicine as well as psychological therapy.

The main types of medicine used for treating OCD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These can help by increasing the levels of a chemical called serotonin in your brain.

You may need to take the medicine for 12 weeks before you notice any effect.

The course of treatment may last 1 year or more. You may be able to stop taking medicine if you have few or no troublesome symptoms after this time.

Do not stop taking SSRIs without speaking to your doctor first. Giving up SSRIs can cause unpleasant side effects. To reduce the chance of this happening, treatment should end gradually. Your doctor may need to increase the dose again if your symptoms return.

Side effects of SSRIs

Possible side effects of SSRIs include:

  • feeling agitated, shaky or anxious
  • feeling or being sick
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • dizziness
  • sleeping problems
  • headaches
  • low sex drive

There's also a very small chance that SSRIs could cause you to have suicidal thoughts or want to self-harm.


Contact your GP or go to your nearest emergency department (ED) if this happens.

Most side effects improve after a few weeks as your body gets used to the medicine.

Further treatment

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist OCD service if other treatments have not worked.

OCD support groups can:

  • provide emotional support and coping advice
  • reduce feelings of isolation
  • offer a chance to socialise with others
  • provide information and advice for family members and friends

Your GP and mental health service can provide information about support groups in your area.

Learn more about support groups -

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025