Seeking help for OCD: a qualitative study of the enablers and barriers


While I was having CBT for my OCD I decided I to train as a mental health researcher.  I enrolled on an MSc course in Mental Health Services Research.  As part of the MSc we were encouraged to conduct our own research study.  I decided to do a qualitative study on seeking help for OCD, exploring the factors which encourage or push us to seek help, and the barriers to seeking treatment.


Enormous thanks to the seventeen people who so kindly offered to take part in an individual interview.  You participated, often despite considerable OCD-related barriers to taking part, and are deeply committed to furthering understanding of OCD.

The study was published last year in a peer-reviewed journal:

Robinson, K. J., Rose, D. and Salkovskis, P. M. (2017).  Seeking help for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): a qualitative study of the enablers and barriers conducted by a researcher with personal experience of OCD.  Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice.  90: 193–211. doi:10.1111/papt.12090

If you have access to academic journals, maybe through being a student or working at a university, you can access the paper here: 

Recently a near-final version of the paper has become freely available to everyone online.  It can be found here:

There are three figures in the paper.  The first relates to the time between OCD significantly interfering with participants’ lives and their seeking help, if they had done.  The mean delay for participants in this study was seven years.  Five participants delayed seeking treatment for over sixteen years and one person had never sought help.  However, two people sought treatment within a year.

Graph 4

I recorded the individual interviews, with participants’ consent, and transcribed them.  I then analysed the transcripts using thematic analysis.  The main themes (represented as rectangular boxes below) and subthemes (represented as ellipses) which participants described in relation to barriers to seeking help, are presented in the following visual summary.  The length / width of each ellipse is proportional to the number of participants who mentioned that factor.

Barriers jpeg

The main themes and subthemes which participants described in relation to enablers to seeking help are presented in the following visual summary.  In the paper you can read quotations from the interviews which illustrate the subthemes.


Therapists may be interested in the following ‘Practitioner Points’ included in the paper:

*  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, e.g. fear of criminalisation, may continue to have an important effect afterwards unless sensitively explored and understood.

Huge thanks again to the seventeen people who shared their stories and reflections so generously – this study is yours.


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