Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is hardly a pleasant experience, as it causes the brain to be bombarded with unwanted thoughts, urges or images. While treatments exist for OCD, it can be challenging to find a reliable treatment program for those with this condition. A University of Michigan study has sought to make this an easier question to answer.
Seeing What Works
The authors recruited 87 teens and adults for their study, all of whom had been previously diagnosed with OCD. The subject’s symptoms ranged from moderate to severe. For a period lasting twelve weeks, each participant was assigned to undergo one of two treatment methods.
One group received what is commonly referred to as “exposure” therapy. As its name suggests, exposure therapy requires patients to be exposed to the thoughts, images, objects and situations that trigger their symptoms. Under the guidance of a therapist, the patient is asked to not perform the compulsive ritual behaviors associated with OCD. Ideally, this approach will lessen the anxiety caused by these triggers. The second treatment option, known as stress management therapy (SMT), seeks to reduce a person’s overall level of stress.
Mix and Match
Upon concluding the treatment periods, the authors noted that the subject’s symptoms appeared to have improved. However, when reviewing scans taken at the onset of the study, the researchers identified some very notable brain activity patterns. In short, exposure treatment worked best on those with more activity in brain circuits linked to cognitive demand processing. Conversely, the SMT approach yielded better results in those with less activity in these areas.
Stephan Taylor, the study’s lead author and professor of psychiatry at Michigan Medicine, stated in a university press release that the team “found that the more OCD-specific form of therapy, the one based on exposure to the focus of obsession and compulsion, was better for relieving symptoms, which in itself is a valuable finding from this head-to-head randomized comparison of two treatment options. But when we looked at the brain to see what was behind that response, we found that the more strength patients had in certain brain areas were linked to a greater chance of responding to exposure-based CBT.”