How you can help someone with OCD

OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder that has two main CONCEPTS, Obsessions and Compulsions. For someone suffering with ocd these obsessions feel real and they act on their compulsions to help combat the anxiety and INTRUSIVE thoughts. 

help someone with OCD

OCD is a hard illness to live with. At times a whole day can be taken up by obsessions and compulsions which is distressing and hard to deal with. A life with OCD is far from easy! When you know someone with OCD it can be hard to understand "why" they feel the need to do things or why they get into such a state.  Helping someone who has OCD is hard work and confusing. Education is a key point when you are helping someone. You need to understand why they are doing the things they do. No one with OCD chooses to have the thoughts they have nor do they want to act them out through compulsions.

How You Can Help Someone With OCD


Obsessions are constant intrusive thoughts that a person with OCD suffers with. They are different from the normal random thoughts all people have. These thoughts become stuck and you can't ignore them. They are obsessive so they keep coming sometimes in slightly different ways and they cause anxiety. Obsessions can be about anything and for someone with OCD these obsessions can be about one thing and on another day it can be something else.  These obsessions come with images which make them feel more real and lead to more anxiety and worry. 

  • Fear of contamination, getting ill, making someone else ill
  • Fear of causing harm to someone or that you have
  • Violent thoughts and images 
  • Sexual thoughts/images that are against your morals/ with other people than your partner.
  • Fear of things not being clean or in order
  • Fear of something "bad" happening


Compulsions are things a person has to do because an intrusive thought has told them to. It's an aid to lower anxiety and to try and rid the thought. They help the sufferer at times not to worry about something such as the door being locked. Compulsions can be psychical or mental. Odd and Even numbers sometimes come into play and a sufferer may have to do things a number of times. For most people with OCD, these compulsions can stop something bad happening so they don't risk not doing them. Of course, they know that it's not real and the fact they are doing this isn't going to change anything but they can't help it.

  • Checking that the doors and windows are locked
  • Touching things in a way that feels right.
  • Asking for constant reassurance
  • Keeping things in a order
  • Hand washing constantly 
  • Arguing with a thought
  • Doing things in a number order
  • Counting in your head or out loud
  • Checking you didn't cause harm
  • Checking body reaction to a thought
  • Cleaning to rid contamination
  • Hoarding objects that have no use

Once you know more about what OCD it will be much easier talking with the person who is suffering. When you are talking remember to not judge them on their thoughts. To you, they might be scary or strange but remember the person who is having them has to go through it every day and they don't want to have them.  Remember that these thoughts are part of a complex illness and the last thing they need is to be judged. 

When talking about OCD stay calm and understanding. They might be scared to tell you due to embarrassment or you getting angry. Let them know they can tell you anything, no matter how bad they sound. When they are talking let them know you understand, in your own way what is bothering them. 

Let them talk when you are speaking about OCD. Don't jump in and add things or say they have it wrong. Let them just talk in the way that they feel, no matter how distorted they are. Sometimes when someone is in the worst of their OCD they get very muddled up and don't make any sense but let them be as they talk. Not only will this help you know what is going on but it will help them get it off their chest and get themselves out of it.  

don't judge them

be calm and understanding

Let them talk


OCD is a very misunderstood illness which is why you need to be educated. One thing that you need to know and make clear to other people is OCD isn't something you can just "snap out of" and saying this to someone with OCD is awful. If it was that simple we all would, I promise! When a sufferer is being told to "not think about it" or "go for a walk" it's only adding to the problem. Creating an environment where the sufferer can just be is the best.  No matter how annoyed it makes you or how time-consuming leaving the house is they can't stop without help. Don't argue over their obsessions/compulsions but offer advice and help them in any way they need. You might want to let family/friends know what is going on and maybe let them know what OCD really is, this way you can avoid situations that might make it worse.

ocd misconceptions 

Getting Treatment

Helping someone you know to get help can be a hard task with OCD. Some people are scared to tell their GP their thoughts because they feel they will be told they are a bad person or crazy. This is why having information about OCD when you see the GP is important. You could together write a list of the obsessions and compulsions they are suffering with and also have a list of OCD symptoms. Not only will this help the GP understand but also the person who is scared. Most of the time a GP will refer the sufferer to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which is a talking therapy used to treat OCD. Within CBT they can learn to deal with the intrusive thoughts and know they are just thoughts. They also use a treatment called ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention. This is where the obsession and compulsions are confronted by being placed in a situation that would cause anxiety and you don't act on the compulsions. Treatment is a scary time but working together you can help the person feel more at ease. CBT is the most common therapy in the UK and is taken at the client's pace, they don't have to do anything they don't want to. 

Upon meeting the CBT therapist they will talk about what the person is thinking/doing. They will also ask how you play the role within the OCD. They might ask you about if you reassure them or help them perform their rituals.  A key point with Treatment for OCD is to stop doing this and they will help the both of you together to put a plan in place. 

Reassurance is a compulsion that an OCD sufferer does to gain relief from their anxiety. They might ask if the door is locked or if their hands really are clean. You might not even realise you are giving reassurance!  It's easy to fall into saying "it's locked" or "yes your hands are clean" and at that time their anxiety may decrease. The problem is giving someone reassurance is only giving into their compulsion and adds to the belief that this is the way to deal with the problem. This is why you will have a plan to stop this. Sometimes you will have to give reassurance because the sufferer might be very distressed and that is okay! It's not going to always work but the more you don't, the better. You just need to judge the situation and see if it's something they can work out for themselves, for example: If they are asking you if their hands are clean after they have washed them five times before you say "yes" think can they work this out for themselves.

Treatment differs between patients so don't be annoyed if progress isn't fast. OCD is very complex and it takes a lot of time to get better. The main point with OCD is most of the time it isn't completely cured, more managed.  The whole process of CBT can be very hard on the sufferer so again, be patient and calm with them. 

ocd advice

ocd isn't a choice

No one wants to have these thoughts

Helping someone with OCD is hard but it can be done. The most important thing is to get professional help from the GP or a private CBT therapist. They can offer the skills in detail for the both of you. OCD is an awful illness but it can be managed and in some cases overcome. Don't give up hope! Above all else, coming from someone who suffers with OCD is remember, we do not choose to have these thoughts. We don't want them and we know they are irrational. we know our compulsions mean nothing but we have to do it.


Stacey BarberOCD