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A teen is in virtual DBT to help him manage OCD.

How DBT Can Help You Manage OCD

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can teach people with OCD to manage obsessions and compulsions. Learn more about the benefits of DBT for OCD here.


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How DBT treats OCD

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) treats obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) by helping people develop mindfulness skills to better observe and manage their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. By learning to tolerate distress and regulate intense emotion, people can gradually reduce their reliance on OCD-related compulsive behavior and rituals. DBT also teaches effective communication and problem-solving skills to help people address the underlying emotional and interpersonal issues that may contribute to their OCD symptoms. Through a combination of individual therapy, group skills training, and coaching, people with OCD can use DBT to work towards a more balanced and fulfilling life.

Skills taught in DBT for OCD

Skills taught in DBT for OCD are as follows:


Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally focusing on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. People in DBT therapy learn to observe their thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them, which can help decrease anxiety and obsessive thoughts.

Distress tolerance

This DBT skill teaches people with OCD how to cope with difficult emotions and situations without resorting to unhealthy behaviors. Distress tolerance can be especially helpful for individuals who experience intense distress related to their OCD symptoms.

Emotional regulation

Emotional regulation skills are a cornerstone of DBT therapy and can help people with OCD better understand and manage their emotions. By learning to identify and express their feelings in healthy ways, people can reduce the impact of OCD symptoms on their emotional well-being.

Interpersonal effectiveness

These skills focus on improving communication and relationships with others. People in DBT for OCD learn to assert their needs, set boundaries, and navigate social interactions in a way that supports their recovery from OCD.

Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring involves challenging and changing irrational or unhelpful thoughts related to OCD. By working to shift their mindset, people partaking in DBT for OCD can reduce the power of obsessive thoughts and compulsions.


Self-compassion skills common in DBT help people with OCD to cultivate kindness and understanding toward themselves. This can be particularly important for those who struggle with shame or self-criticism related to their OCD.

Distraction techniques

Distraction techniques are DBT skills that help people with OCD to shift their focus away from obsessive thoughts and onto other activities or interests. Engaging in pleasant or absorbing activities can help reduce the frequency and intensity of OCD symptoms, like obsessions and compulsive behavior. 

Problem-solving skills

Problem-solving skills empower people partaking in DBT for OCD to address challenges and obstacles related to their symptoms effectively. By developing a systematic approach to problem-solving, people can take steps to improve their quality of life.


Self-advocacy involves learning to speak up for one’s own needs and rights. People in DBT for OCD can develop the skills to advocate for themselves in treatment settings, at work, and in their personal lives to ensure they receive the support and accommodations they need for their recovery.

Benefits of DBT for OCD

People who engage in DBT for OCD may experience long-term benefits such as improved emotion regulation, decreased anxiety and depression symptoms, enhanced interpersonal relationships, and an increased ability to cope with stress and uncertainty. Through the skills learned in DBT, people with OCD can develop healthier coping mechanisms and a greater sense of balance and control in their lives. 

How quickly does DBT work for OCD? 

People may start to see improvements in their OCD symptoms within a few months of starting DBT. As mentioned, DBT can help people develop new coping skills and manage their OCD symptoms more effectively, leading to a reduction in the frequency and intensity of their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. With consistent effort and commitment to the therapy, people partaking in DBT can experience significant relief from their OCD symptoms, research shows.

How is medication used to treat OCD? 

Medication can be an effective treatment for managing symptoms of OCD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed to people with OCD to help alleviate anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Another type of medication used is tricyclic antidepressants, which can also help reduce obsessions and compulsions. In some cases, antipsychotic medications may be added to the treatment regimen to target specific symptoms. It is important for a person with OCD to work closely with a healthcare professional to find the most effective medication and dosage for their individual needs and mental health condition.

Other types of OCD therapy

In addition to DBT and medication management, some other types of OCD therapy are as follows: 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

This therapy focuses on changing the person’s thought patterns and behaviors related to OCD. A therapist helps the person identify and challenge their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, leading to a reduction in OCD symptoms.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP)

This therapy involves gradually exposing the person to their obsessions and preventing them from engaging in their compulsive behaviors. Over time, this helps a person with OCD develop a tolerance to their anxiety and reduce their need to perform rituals.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

ACT encourages the person to accept their thoughts and feelings without judgment and commit to making behavioral changes aligned with their values. This therapy helps a person with OCD build psychological flexibility and reduce the impact of OCD on their daily life.

Intensive outpatient program for OCD

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) for OCD is generally recommended when a person’s OCD symptoms are severe enough to disrupt their daily life, but they are still able to function without the need for inpatient care. IOP typically involves a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, and medication management. The goal of IOP is to help the person gain a better understanding of their OCD symptoms and learn coping strategies to manage them in their everyday life. By receiving consistent support and guidance from a team of mental health professionals, people in IOP can work towards reducing the impact of their OCD symptoms on their overall well-being. 

OCD treatment with Charlie Health 

If a young person in your life is struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health offers a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with complex mental health conditions, including OCD. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing OCD is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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