How to Optimize OCD Recovery

Not a Personality Trait

At times in the therapy process, clients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may engage in reassurance-seeking behavior, asking questions such as “What if I’m not making as much progress as I SHOULD?”  or “What if I NEVER recover from this?” If we explore a little deeper, the questions reveal primal fears that all human beings, at one time or another, encounter. “Will I survive this?” “Will I maintain a coherent sense of myself?” “Will I have a community that will support me?” Individuals with OCD often question their basic safety, identity, and belonging. For this reason, the recovery process can be a fraught experience.

How can we best encourage individuals with OCD that their recovery efforts are worth it? We can start by assisting individuals with OCD in clarifying what recovery means for them. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2012), recovery is a process of change that involves improving health and wellness and reaching one’s full potential It can also refer to a dynamic process that involves improvements in health and social functioning as well as increased well-being and purpose in life (SAMHSA, 2012).

Recovery Is Worth The Effort

A question we often ask our clients to consider is taken from Mary Oliver’s poem called The Summer Day: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Recovery is worth it because this is the only life we have. Whatever challenges we face as humans, we get to decide what our lives stand for. Not OCD. By moving in the direction of our values, we can face our fears with a sense of life opening, rather than constricting around the rules and edicts of OCD.

Taking A Values Inventory

Deciding what is most important to us is usually one of the first steps to take in the journey toward healing. Connecting with our values enhances motivation for recovery, makes the hard work bearable, and enhances our sense of meaning, connectedness, and vitality. And when our behaviors are aligned with what is most important to us, we are psychologically healthier. So being clear about our values is essential to recovery. To aid in clarifying values, we recommend these ACT exercises:

Recovery Values

Viewing recovery through the lens of values can help to better understand what it takes to commit to recovery. Courage. Facing our deepest fears and uncertainties requires an enormous amount of Courage. Courage does not equal the absence of fear. We commit to recovery in the presence of overwhelming fear, discomfort, aversion, or disgust. We do this to teach our nervous system that our difficult inner experiences are not truly danger signals, but rather misfiring in the brain.

Curiosity. Rather than automatically labeling our sensations, emotions, and urges as “bad,” we can approach inner experiences with curiosity to get a sense of what is happening physically in our bodies rather than the story that OCD tells. Often, individuals with OCD will report that when they do ERP exercises, the subjective units of distress are not as intense as they originally predicted.

Present-Moment-Awareness. As impossible as it may sound, we have the capability of disengaging from obsessive thinking. It is essential to practice grounding and mindfulness techniques to help us reconnect with our body in the present moment. Obsessional thinking usually takes our mind to the future or the past. We can only effect positive change in the present moment. Regular mindfulness practices help us to identify and redirect rumination which fuel OCD.

Self-Compassion. OCD often contributes to judgmental, self-critical thinking. Self-compassion eases this burden by enhancing mindfulness of our own suffering, connecting with the universal nature of suffering, and making the decision to be kind to ourselves (Neff, 2024). Kristen Neff (2024) describes two types of self-compassion that are essential to recovery. The yin of self- compassion refers to radical acceptance of ourselves as we are in this moment. It is the quality we would show to a friend who is experiencing a moment of suffering. The yang of self- compassion is about taking action in the world to help alleviate suffering. It brings to bear our self-discipline to do the hard work of recovery.

Wellness. Recovery is not just the absence of symptoms. The true aim of recovery is wellness, a holistic process integrating mind, body, and spirit. A focus on wellness orients individuals toward optimal health and well-being and increases a sense of meaning, vitality, and connectedness. This is how we optimize recovery from OCD. More on this topic in future blogs.


Chi Sigma Iota (n.d.). Wellness in Counseling. Retrieved from https://www.csi-

Neff, K. D. (2024). What is self-compassion? Retrieved from https://self-

Portland Psychotherapy. (2024). Values Exercises. Retrieved from Portland Psychotherapy website

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery.