Practical Tips for Helping People With OCD

See also: Developing Resilience

When someone close to you struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you may want to know how to support them. Based on a survey, the lifetime prevalence of OCD among U.S. adults is 2.3%, emphasizing the significance of providing timely help. With the right approach and understanding, you can play a crucial role in helping your loved one deal with their symptoms, so read on to learn how to support someone with OCD.

What Is OCD?

OCD is a mental health condition characterized by obsessions and compulsions that significantly impact daily life. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts or urges. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors aimed at easing anxiety or avoiding feared outcomes, often excessive and unrelated to the situation.

The signs and symptoms of OCD can vary widely among individuals, including:

  • Persistent fears or uncertainties. 
  • Uncontrollable thoughts about fears, harm, or contamination. 
  • Repetitive action patterns.
  • Significant distress in daily life
  • Feelings of frustration, guilt, and shame.
  • Symmetry or ordering obsessions, involving the need for things to be arranged in a particular way.
  • Avoidance of specific places, people, or situations that trigger obsessions. 

Types of OCD

OCD can manifest in various ways, and knowing some of these types can help you adjust your support strategies when thinking “How to deal with an OCD person?” accordingly:

  1. Contamination OCD: It involves obsessive fears of contamination by germs, dirt, or toxins. Compulsions in this case may include excessive hand washing, avoiding touching certain objects or surfaces, or repeatedly cleaning personal items or living spaces.

  2. Symmetry OCD: This type involves obsessions with symmetry, order, or exactness, leading to arranging items in a certain way, counting objects, or repeatedly organizing until it feels perfect.

  3. Hoarding OCD: People with this type of OCD find it hard to throw things away and get very upset at the idea. They end up buying too much stuff, struggle to keep things organized, and feel anxious when trying to tidy up.

  4. Unacceptability OCD: This type of OCD involves fearing that one might offend a higher power or break moral rules, leading to intrusive thoughts about wrongdoing. Compulsions include excessive praying, performing rituals to undo perceived wrongs, etc.

  5. Harm-related OCD: People with this type of OCD have unwanted violent thoughts or fear of harming themselves or others, usually unintentionally. This leads to avoiding triggers, seeking reassurance, or performing mental rituals to ease the thoughts.

Common Misconceptions About OCD

Being a complex mental health condition, OCD is often misunderstood. Dispelling these misconceptions is important to combat stigma and encourage support.

  • OCD is just about being overly tidy or organized: While OCD can involve obsessions and compulsions related to cleanliness or orderliness, it encompasses a broader spectrum of symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, fears of harm, and excessive doubting behaviors.

  • OCD is a personality quirk or a habit that can be easily overcome: OCD is not a choice or a personality trait, it is a genuine mental health condition characterized by persistent obsessions and compulsions that disrupt daily life.

  • Everyone has a little bit of OCD: Having occasional intrusive thoughts or repetitive behaviors doesn't equate to having OCD. For example, in the US, diagnosis requires meeting DSM-5 specific criteria with symptoms causing significant impairment.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not a habit or a choice, it is a serious condition that may significantly affect different areas of life. It’s important to promote professional help for OCD as it allows one to cope with symptoms better and lead a more fulfilling life.

How to Help Someone With OCD

Whether you're living with someone with OCD or you know someone in your close circle dealing with this disorder, being a good support system for them can play a huge role in their recovery journey. It can complement the effectiveness of the therapy or medications they're taking.

Communication: Dos and Don'ts

If you want to know how to help a friend with OCD, remember that effective communication is key. Here are some dos and don'ts:



Do listen attentively without judgment or criticism. Don't minimize or dismiss their experiences with OCD.
Do offer reassurance that you are there to support them and that they are not alone in their struggles. Don't criticize or belittle their behaviors or rituals.
Do encourage open communication about their OCD symptoms, triggers, and treatment goals. Don't blame or shame them for their OCD symptoms or behaviors.
Do educate yourself about OCD, its symptoms and challenges. Don't encourage them to avoid triggers or situations that provoke their OCD symptoms.
Do respect their autonomy and choices regarding their treatment and recovery journey. Don't offer unsolicited advice or quick-fix solutions for managing OCD symptoms.
Do be patient and understanding. Don't enable compulsive behaviors by participating in rituals or accommodating their unfair OCD-related demands.

Encouraging Professional Help

Encouraging your loved one to seek professional help is essential for effective management of OCD:

  • Begin by expressing your concern for the individual's well-being and your willingness to support them in seeking professional help. Highlight how professionals offer evidence-based methods to tackle obsessions, ease anxiety, and improve overall well-being.

  • Offer help in finding a qualified and licensed therapist in your area experienced in treating OCD. Consider the therapist's credentials and expertise, particularly in effective therapies for OCD, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and ERP.

  • Educate yourself and help the individual learn about available treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which may be prescribed alongside therapy for some individuals.

Supporting Someone With OCD

Supporting someone with OCD involves various strategies, including:

  • Educate yourself and others around you about OCD, its symptoms, causes, and treatments.

  • Be there consistently supporting individuals with OCD by understanding, validating experiences, and encouraging them.

  • Create a supportive, low-stress environment for individuals with OCD by reducing triggers, establishing open communication, and offering reassurance.

  • Encourage the individual to establish and maintain healthy routines, including regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy diet, and stress-reducing activities, to promote overall well-being.

  • Help the individual recognize and avoid triggers by collaborating on strategies that best work to manage their OCD symptoms.

  • Offer to accompany the individual to therapy sessions as additional support if they feel comfortable and if it's appropriate.

  • Celebrate the individual's progress, no matter how small, by recognizing their efforts in managing symptoms and encouraging continued work towards treatment goals.

Self-Care for Caregivers

Taking care of yourself is essential when caring for someone with OCD. It helps to prevent caregiver burnout and ensure you're better equipped to offer meaningful support:

  • Establish clear boundaries about what you are and are not willing or able to do in terms of caregiving responsibilities to protect your own physical, emotional, and mental health.

  • Recognize your own stress levels and understand that supporting someone with OCD can be tough, needing patience, stress management, and flexibility.

  • Be kind and compassionate towards yourself, recognizing that caregiving for someone with OCD can be emotionally taxing.


Supporting a loved one with OCD requires empathy, patience, and understanding. You can play an important role in their journey towards betterment. Remember to prioritize self-care and seek support when needed, as supporting someone with OCD can be challenging but immensely rewarding.

About the Author

Dr. William Grigg, a board-certified physician, provides medical care at MEDvidi. With a passion for healthcare and a commitment to patient well-being, Dr. Grigg has earned a reputation as a compassionate and skilled practitioner.