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Family Coping Skills

We understand that watching a loved one struggle with OCD can be quite overwhelming for family members who do not know how to effectively manage the emotional pain. A family's lack of understanding about the mental illness, as well as feelings of helplessness, guilt, frustration, or intolerance, may incite negative or rejecting reactions which can further exacerbate obsessions and compulsions.

Frequently, people with OCD must shift their role functions, as they no longer can support themselves financially, engage in social activities, or attend to household tasks. The families repeatedly are left with the added burdens of paying bills, taking care of the person, fulfilling household chores, and adapting to the life changes and hardships that accompany the mental illness. Undoubtedly, OCD is a highly distressing and disabling disorder that can significantly impair one's occupational functioning, hinder the quality of one's leisure activities, and result in upheaval and disruption in a person's social relationships.


In addition to the various instrumental responsibilities of the family members, their troubled loved ones often rely on them for emotional and informational support in their daily struggle with OCD. The pathological doubting, so commonly associated with OCD, causes people to doubt their senses (i.e. what they see, hear or touch) and can profoundly impair their daily performance. Thus, they may rely on relatives to offer them constant reassurance or may request that the family participate in their ritualistic behaviors to assure them that they indeed have completed a task or performed it correctly. In order to alleviate a loved one's fear and anxiety, families may become overly involved in his/her avoidance behaviors, decision making and daily responsibilities, further fostering the dependence and insecurities that are characteristic of this disorder. The coping skills group will help family members and significant others to clarify the dubious boundaries between a healthy therapeutic involvement and a maladaptive one which acts to reinforce the symptoms.


The goal of this focus will be to educate families about the benefits of behavior therapy, and will assist them in helping their loved ones recognize the need for treatment if they are not already in treatment. Family members will assume an active role in the behavioral intervention by encourage their loved ones to participate in and comply with treatment. Families will learn how to expose them to anxiety-provoking stimuli in a step-by-step fashion, gradually habituating them to the stressors. Relatives may be asked to participate in the response prevention exercises by supervising and monitoring the time and frequency the person engages in certain ritualistic behaviors. The more stringent and detailed the response-prevention instructions are for the person, the fewer decisions the person has to make with regard to what is normal and what is ritualized, ultimately resulting in better compliance.

In addition to encouraging active family participation in exposure and response prevention exercises, the coping skills group will offer an open forum for questions, discussions and concerns about obsessive compulsive disorder. The group will allow for people to share their experiences, and confide in others who have family members with OCD. The group will strive to minimize the daily stressors that families of people with OCD often experience. Moreover, the group will educate the family members about beneficial support methods, helpful coping mechanisms, and better ways to communicate their feelings and frustrations. Through the support and guidance of weekly group sessions, families will learn how to provide their loved ones with a greater sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy.

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