The Houston OCD Program presented the Life after Treatment: Relapse Prevention workshop that is based on our Relapse Prevention group at the IOCDF Conference on Saturday, July 19th, 2014. Jessica Gerfen, PhD, Jennifer Sy, PhD, Christen Sistrunk, MA, LPC, and Emily Anderson, PhD presented this interactive workshop to adult attendees and their family members.
Why relapse prevention? If you are suffering from OCD, it is likely that one of your reasons for seeking treatment is so that you can function at work or in life and live the life you desire – with as little interference from OCD symptoms as possible! Taking treatment seriously and working hard at it is one of the most difficult, but potentially rewarding, challenge that people take on in their lives. When OCD sufferers improve and are able to function effectively in live, one crucial way to maintain those gains is through relapse prevention. This includes simply learning about OCD symptoms and main treatment strategies to confronting a major exposure. We at the Houston OCD Program know that you worked very hard at reducing your OCD symptoms and it is important to hold onto these gains.
How do I keep my treatment gains? Basically by designing your own version of effective relapse prevention. One way to think of relapse prevention is to compare it to a beautiful garden that you put so much hard work into cultivating. From tilling and fertilizing the soil to planting your flowers, this garden is a product of your effort – a lot of sweat and time! Now, imagine that you get preoccupied with life and forget to attend to your garden. What would it look like after a few days, a few weeks, or a few months? It’s not as if the garden can never get back to its previous beauty. But it’ll take some extra hard work to take care of all the overgrown weeds that have taken over. Now, imagine that you did not forget about your garden and you instead pulled a few weeds regularly. Not only is this less work in the long run but your garden remains beautiful every day.
The everyday pulling of weeds is what we think of as maintenance or daily acts of relapse prevention. These important steps are ways to keep your treatment gains and life (or your garden!) the way you want it to be. Not to have your OCD symptoms sneak up at you (like weeds), but you stay on top of them and this provides you with the opportunity to live a life you desire, not dictated by OCD symptoms. Daily acts of maintenance might include things such as daily planned exposures, self-care, fun activities, etc.
What’s the difference between slips and relapse? The time length and (likely) the severity of anxiety or OCD symptoms is what differentiate a slip from a relapse. Don’t forget that everyone slips! We all have daily ups and downs (even if we do not have OCD) so it is also normal for you to have days where you might have a slip into some of your symptoms. If you stay on top of it and manage to follow your relapse prevention plan, these down periods are usually referred to as slips. You slipped a bit, but managed to get back on track. Relapses are much typically longer in duration than slips and more severe. Whether you are experiencing a slip or a relapse, it is important to focus on the work and stay away from blaming yourself. One way to achieve that is to pay a close attention to be kind to yourself, be self-compassionate, while making steps to overcome your symptoms.
One way to develop my own relapse prevention plan. To help you out with designing your own plan, we’ve included the Relapse-Prevention workshop that you can fill out to personalize your own relapse prevention plan.