Considering a Residential OCD Program?

When people find out that Dan spent nine weeks at a world-renowned residential program for OCD, they often whisper, “So what was it like there?”

When we first visited “the clinic,” I was pleasantly surprised at how bright, airy, and modern it was on the inside. A big contrast from the outside. It looked a lot like a college student’s dormitory, with a dozen or so double rooms, and a common meeting area with televisions and computers. But there were tell-tale signs that this was not just a place for college students to hang out. First of all, although there were some college-aged clients, most of the people there looked older. There was  a nurse’s station in the middle of the corridor, and a sign-in board for those clients who were allowed to leave the premises. All of the bathrooms were kept locked and we saw a staff member standing outside one of them, timing somebody’s shower. We also noticed a half-dozen or so sheets of lined notebook paper taped to various walls, with the words, “I have cancer” written on every line. I realize now that these papers were someone’s therapy, but at the time I was baffled by them.

This was Dan’s home for nine weeks. While I have talked about some of the issues we had with the staff at the program, there is no question that the intensive Exposure Response Prevention Therapy that Dan received there saved his life. Would the ERP Therapy have been as successful if he had lived at home and seen a competent therapist, once or twice a week? Of if he had gone to a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)? Maybe, but I’m guessing the constant day in and day out reinforcement of what Dan needed to do was a huge factor in his recovery.

That’s not to say that a residential program is the answer for everyone. I’m still not sure it was the right place for Dan. He was given some heavy- duty meds and I’ll talk about that in another post.  And even though we had weekly meetings with Dan and his social worker (we were lucky that we lived close enough to do this) we felt detached from our son and had little to no knowledge of what was going on with him. This lack of family involvement may not be an issue for everyone, but we were the parents of a teenager, so it was a big negative for us.

Another thing to consider is that, because the clinic created a refuge for Dan, it was difficult for him to leave. He was with people who he respected and admired, and even more importantly, who understood his OCD and what he was going through. Who’d want to leave that cocoon for the very scary real world?  To be fair, most people didn’t stay at the clinic as long as Dan, so getting too comfortable may not have been a problem for them.

Then there’s the issue of money. While our health insurance pretty much covered the cost of treatment, it rarely will cover the cost of living at a residential program. Remember, residential is different from inpatient. Make sure you know what you are expected to pay before agreeing to attend. A lot of programs do have sliding fee scales, so that is something to ask about also.

So in answer to the question, “What was it like there?” I can only give you a glimpse from a parent’s perspective.  As far as if it’s a good place for an OCD sufferer,  the answer depends on the person. But if you are at the end of your rope and are up for the challenge of intensive ERP Therapy, it just may be worth a try.

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