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Seeking help for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): A qualitative study of the enablers and barriers conducted by a researcher with personal experience of OCD

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Karen J. Robinson, Diana Rose, Paul M. Salkovskis

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice
E-pub ahead of print10 Apr 2017


King's Authors


Objectives: Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can be hugely disabling. Although very effective psychological treatments exist, many people delay years before seeking help or never seek treatment. There have been clinical observation and short questionnaire studies on why people delay, but little qualitative research exists on this complex subject. The present qualitative study aimed to identify the barriers to seeking treatment and the factors that encourage or push people to seek help for their OCD (positive and negative enablers). 

Design: A qualitative, exploratory study using in-depth, individual, semi-structured interviews was conducted by a researcher with personal experience of OCD. 

Methods: Seventeen people with OCD, contacted through the charity OCD-UK, were interviewed about the factors that impacted on their decision to seek help or not. The interviews were analysed using thematic analysis. 

Results: Barriers identified were stigma, 'internal / cognitive' factors, not knowing what their problem was, factors relating to their GP or treatment, and fear of criminalisation. Positive enablers identified were being supported to seek help, information and personal accounts of OCD in the media, and confidence in their GP. Negative enablers were reaching a crisis point and for some participants (whose intrusive thoughts were about harming children) feeling driven to seek treatment because of the nature of the thoughts, that is, seeking help to prevent the 'harm' they feared they were capable of doing. 

Conclusions: Participants identified a range of barriers and enablers that impacted on their decision to seek help or not. These give important indicators about the likely causes for delayed help seeking in OCD and ways in which people might be encouraged to seek help earlier. 

Practitioner points: People with OCD may face a wide range of barriers to seeking help, including concern about the reaction of health professionals. The level of awareness, kindness, and understanding shown by first-line practitioners can be very important to those seeking help. Acknowledging a person's journey prior to seeking help is likely to foster trust between therapist and patient. Some barriers to seeking help, for example, fear of criminalisation, may continue to have an important effect afterwards unless sensitively explored and understood.

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