How is obsessive-compulsive disorder treated?

OCD will not go away by itself, so it is important to seek treatment. The person might be referred to a healthcare professional who is specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses.

The most effective approach to treating OCD combines medications with cognitive-behavior therapy.

  • Cognitive-behavior therapy: (CBT)-CBT focuses on reducing the exaggerated or catastrophic thinking that often occurs in people with OCD. The goal is to assist persons with OCD in confronting their anxiety producing beliefs without performing the compulsive behaviors.
  • Medication therapy: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is a family of medications that work by increasing and sustaining the levels of serotonin in the brain. As mentioned above, low levels of serotonin are linked to OCD. The SSRIs approved in the United States for the treatment of OCD include fluoxetine (Prozac®), fluvoxamine (Luvox®), Paroxetine (Paxil®), sertraline (Zoloft®) and citalopram (Celexa®). Another antidepressant medication, clomipramine (Anafranil®), is also approved for treating OCD.

In severe cases of OCD and in people who do not respond to treatment, (ECT) or surgery might be used to treat OCD. During ECT, electrodes are attached to the patient’s head, and a series of electric shocks are delivered to the brain, which induce seizures. The seizures cause the release of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/02/2014.


  • The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD Accessed: 6/2/2014
  • Eisendrath SJ, Lichtmacher JE. Chapter 25. Psychiatric Disorders. In: Papadakis MA, McPhee SJ, Rabow MW. eds. CURRENT Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2014. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2014.
  • Bipolar and Related Disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5. American Psychiatric Publishing, Incorporated; 2013.

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