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18 min read

Online OCD therapy: everything you need to know in 2024

Written by Saya Des Marais

Published: Mar 20, 2024

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Geralyn Dexter

Table of contents

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a serious mental health condition that can be debilitating if left untreated. For those who can’t or don’t want to see a therapist in person, online OCD therapy is an excellent and effective choice. In this article, we cover what to expect in online OCD therapy, how online therapy for OCD works, and where you can find an online OCD therapist.

Why do you need OCD therapy?

Everyone has intrusive thoughts sometimes. But for some, these intrusive obsessive thoughts are extremely frightening and don’t go away. These unwanted thoughts, images, or urges could cause you to feel fear, shame, or disgust. These thoughts can be about any topic, including obsessions about any topic, including the fear of contamination, second-guessing your memories of real events, doubting your most important relationships, and more. In response, you may feel the need to perform ritualistic or repetitive behaviors to try to ward off the perceived “danger” or help yourself feel less anxious or reduce distress.

If this sounds like you, then you may have OCD. 

The only way to know for sure whether you have OCD is to receive a diagnostic assessment from a licensed professional. But the correct diagnosis is the first step to treatment — and without treatment, OCD isn’t likely to go away on its own.

When it’s left untreated, OCD gets worse; people sometimes find that their OCD symptoms become debilitating over time. The good news is that OCD therapy is very effective. Most people who go through OCD therapy experience at least some improvement in their symptoms, and studies show that online therapy is just as effective for OCD as treatment in-person.

Online OCD therapy vs in-person therapy

The typical image of “therapy” is one of sitting in a chair in a therapist’s office. But in today’s modern world, more and more therapy happens online, including OCD therapy.

For traditional in-person therapy, you travel to a therapist’s office for weekly (or more) sessions. With online OCD therapy, you participate in sessions from any private space where you have an Internet connection. 

A therapist uses the same evidence-based treatment methods to treat OCD whether a session is online or in person. The most effective treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP), a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for OCD that encourages you to withstand intrusive thoughts without responding with compulsions. 

During both in-person and online OCD therapy (ERP) sessions, you and your therapist will discuss how symptoms have been affecting you. Your therapist will encourage you to continuously expose yourself to obsessions and resist the urge to do compulsions. Most of the time, they will give you assignments to complete before the next session, and encourage you to practice your skills.

You receive the same quality care if you choose online OCD therapy; the only difference is that you receive treatment virtually instead of face-to-face. Online OCD therapists see you using a secure telehealth platform to ensure your personal and health information are kept confidential. 

How does online therapy for OCD work?

When starting online OCD therapy, it’s helpful to have an idea of what to expect. Here’s how online therapy for OCD works.

What the process of online OCD therapy looks like

Platforms that offer online mental and medical healthcare use their own platforms for visits. For example, if you see a provider on Klarity, you use Klarity’s platform for your visits. The platform ensures secure and confidential online conferencing with your provider. For each session, you log in to the telehealth platform at your assigned session time.

There are 3 main ways you can meet with online OCD therapists. Many people choose to meet with their online therapist through video conferencing; in this scenario, both you and the therapist have your video cameras on and talk to each other face-to-face through your cameras. You can also use video conferencing software but choose to leave your camera off, or call your therapist on the phone. Some online OCD therapists may also be open to Internet or text messaging between sessions. These details are specific to each therapist, so it’s important to ask if you’re unsure.

Some people see their therapists once a week, but your therapist may suggest having sessions twice a week or more, especially toward the beginning of treatment. 

What to expect in your first session

Before your first online session, your therapist will provide you with instructions on how to log in and what types of technology you need.

In your first session, your therapist will focus on starting to form a trusting relationship with you. This is called the therapeutic alliance and is the foundation of all psychotherapy. They may ask you questions about your experience with OCD and how it’s affected your life. They may also talk to you about things that are seemingly unrelated to OCD; this is to get to know you as a person and start building rapport.

Your therapist may conduct assessments for an OCD diagnosis. This could include rating scales and diagnostic tools, like the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale, and informal assessments, such as asking you open questions and making observations of your behavior and symptoms.

The first session is a good opportunity for you to ask questions. If you haven’t already, ask them about their education, training, and experience treating OCD. It’s okay to make sure a therapist feels like a good fit and has the skills to address your needs. You can also ask logistical questions about the online therapy process, like how payment works and whether you can contact your therapist between sessions.

The role of an online OCD therapist

The role of an OCD therapist is the same whether you see them online, in person, or both. 

Your OCD therapist is your guide. They walk alongside you at some parts of the treatment journey. They are also a teacher who leads you at other points in your journey. They aren’t there to “fix” you or force you to change. Their role is to equip you with the information you need to go through treatment — for example, information like how OCD affects your brain and how you can combat it. They also develop a therapeutic relationship with you, provide structure, and encourage you to continue facing your obsessions and compulsions.

Your online OCD therapist isn’t there to do all the heavy lifting in your treatment. You both must be invested in the treatment process. At the end of the day, you’re the only person who can actually make the behavioral changes required to find relief for your OCD symptoms.

Types of online OCD therapy

As you look for an online OCD therapist, you’ll see that therapists offer different types of online therapy for OCD. It’s important to know that ERP is considered the “gold standard” treatment because it’s the most effective. 

Other types of therapy have promising research supporting their use in OCD treatment as well. And psychiatric medication is highly effective for OCD. The right provider can give you medication management over online sessions.

The following are the most common types of online OCD therapy.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP)

Exposure and response prevention (ERP), or simply exposure therapy, is the gold standard for OCD therapy. It’s a type of CBT and is the most effective for treating OCD whether online or in-person. 

ERP therapists focus on helping you change your behaviors, not your thoughts — specifically, they help you resist the urge to perform compulsions even when obsessions are triggered. In ERP, you gradually and intentionally expose yourself to triggering thoughts or situations and resist the resulting compulsions. In this way, you can break the obsession-compulsion cycle of OCD.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Many treatment providers provide online CBT for OCD. CBT is a common and well-studied therapy type for a number of different mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety

CBT-based methods are based on the idea that our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are interconnected. There are several CBT techniques. Not all are helpful for OCD, and some can even be harmful, so it’s important to confirm what type of CBT an online OCD therapist uses. 

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a structured program that can help you learn how to have a different relationship with your obsessions and compulsions. Instead of judging yourself for having obsessions or fearing that these thoughts will come true, you learn how to simply observe what’s happening in your mind. MBCT is popularly used for people with OCD who didn’t find relief with ERP or medication.

Psychiatry and medication consultations

Although psychiatry isn’t a psychotherapy method, it’s worthy of mention here. Psychiatric medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like Lexapro, Luvox, Zoloft, or Prozac, are some of the most effective treatment methods for OCD. Psychiatrists can provide online consultations to assess your symptoms, give you a diagnosis, and prescribe the best medications for you. 

How effective is online therapy for OCD?

Online OCD therapy isn’t just accessible. Research has found it to be effective in reducing OCD symptoms, especially in cases where face-to-face therapy is less available. 

However, not all online OCD therapy methods are created equal. Research shows that for both online and in-person treatment, CBT (more specifically, a type of CBT called ERP) is the most effective.

In one randomized controlled trial of participants receiving online CBT for OCD, 60% experienced significant relief from their symptoms (vs 6% of participants who received only online supportive therapy). Another study based in Sweden also found that Internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy treatment was successful in reducing OCD symptoms, with over 20% of patients reaching full remission. A 2020 meta-analysis determined that Internet-based CBT was effective for OCD, and participants continued to experience relief 4 months after treatment ended.

Overall, both in-person and online therapy for OCD are effective options.

Pros and cons of online OCD therapy

Online OCD therapy isn’t for everyone. There are pros and cons to every therapy, and it’s important to consider them when deciding whether online OCD therapy is right for you.

Pros of online therapy for OCD

  • Online OCD therapy is more convenient than in-person therapy for most people. You don’t need to commute to sessions, so therapy takes less time. It may also be easier to find an online OCD therapist with availability that fits your schedule.
  • Online OCD therapy makes treatment accessible to anyone with an Internet (or phone) connection. Even if you live in an area with no OCD specialists, online OCD therapy can make it possible for you to get the treatment.
  • Online OCD therapy may be more affordable than in-person treatment. Even if the session cost is the same, you may save money in other areas, like transportation costs.
  • Many people find online therapy for OCD more comfortable. In certain parts of the world, there’s still a high level of stigma against getting mental health support. In smaller communities, you may feel uncomfortable seeing a therapist who you may run into in other social settings. 
  • Studies show that online OCD therapy is effective. Most people with OCD can see the same benefits whether they receive OCD therapy online or in person.

Cons of online therapy for OCD

  • Online OCD therapy requires you to familiarize yourself with different video conferencing and online messaging platforms. It may not be a good fit for people who have a difficult time with technology.
  • Sometimes, technical issues arise that get in the way of treatment. For example, you or your therapist’s Internet connection may go down. These issues are uncommon, but can happen.
  • People with more severe symptoms of OCD may benefit more from seeing an in-person therapist who can monitor their safety.
  • Some people may prefer face-to-face interaction for therapy; in this case, online therapy may not be the best choice.

How to make the most of online OCD therapy

Here are some things to keep in mind so that you can make the most of your online OCD therapy sessions.

  • Choose a therapist who specializes in the type of therapy you’re looking for. Consider starting with a therapist trained in ERP. Keep in mind that providers must have a medical license to prescribe medication. Masters-level therapists and clinical psychologists who offer OCD therapy can’t prescribe medication. 
  • Find a designated quiet, private space for your sessions. You don’t need to have a separate room just for therapy — but it can be helpful to even have a corner of your room set up to talk to your therapist. If you feel comfortable, it can also help to let anyone living with you know that you’re in session, so they can make sure not to disturb you.
  • Check your technology beforehand. Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at your online OCD therapy session only to realize that your laptop battery has died or that your Internet is down. Try to arrive at your sessions a few minutes early to test out the technology, especially your first session.
  • Be prepared to confront scary situations. ERP requires that you intentionally trigger obsessions. This is very uncomfortable for most people with OCD, but it’s the best — and, according to some experts, the only — way to break the cycle of OCD.
  • Practice between sessions. OCD recovery doesn’t happen during therapy sessions alone. It’s up to you to continue practicing the skills you learn in therapy outside of therapy. Your provider will work with you on “homework” to ensure therapy is most effective.

What to look for in an online therapist

When looking for a therapist for online or in-person visits, keep the following in mind.

  • Confirm that a potential therapist has an active license; you can check with your state board or the state licensing board of the state the therapist practices in.
  • Choose a provider that has a license that meets your needs; for example, if you’re interested in medication — by itself or in addition to therapy — look for a provider (psychiatrist) with a medical license for your medication management.
  • Look for therapists who have specific experience treating OCD, especially using ERP. Be wary of therapists who claim to use CBT for OCD but don’t mention ERP specifically.
  • Look for a therapist who you feel like you can connect with and trust. The therapeutic relationship is one of the most important aspects of treatment.
  • Make sure potential therapists use secure, HIPAA-compliant platforms to conduct online therapy sessions. This protects your health information and right to confidentiality.

Where can I find an online therapist for OCD?

Multiple online platforms offer mental and medical care today. Some platforms that offer online OCD therapy include:

Key takeaway 

Online OCD therapy is evidence-based, effective, and accessible. It fills an important gap for people who may not otherwise have access to high-quality OCD treatment, and many people prefer online OCD therapy for its convenience. The decision whether to see a therapist in-person or online or both for OCD is a personal choice. The most important thing is to choose a licensed therapist who’s qualified to provide OCD therapy.

Find a licensed online OCD therapist on Klarity today

Online therapy for OCD is effective and can help you live a life where you’re in control and your obsessions and compulsions aren’t. On Klarity, you can connect with a licensed therapist and/or psychiatrist who can deliver a tailored treatment plan for your OCD. Find an OCD therapist on Klarity and have an appointment in as little as 48 hours.

The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you have regarding your health.

If you’re having a mental health crisis or experiencing a psychiatric emergency, it’s crucial to seek immediate help from a mental healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. You can also call your local emergency services, visit your nearest emergency room, or contact a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, by calling or texting 988 or dialing the Lifeline’s previous phone number, 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) in the U.S.

How we reviewed this article: This article goes through rigorous fact-checking by a team of medical reviewers. Reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the author.

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