Developments Later in
the 20th Century

Another paradigm shift occurred around the 1970s. Behavioral psychology (and, to a lesser extent, cognitive psychology) began to overcome Freudian theory and other ideas to become the dominant model for understanding the illness.

The meaning of this change for OCD sufferers was a new form of therapy. Behaviorists thought pure "talk therapy" was foolish. Behavioral psychology understood Os and Cs in terms of fear, avoidance and conditioned responses. It followed from the behavioral understanding that the way to effectively treat Os and Cs was through a variation of systematic desensitization, as had been shown to be successful with phobias. An OCD treatment known as exposure-and-response-prevention (ERP) therapy was developed through research in the 1960s and 1970s.1 It is still the primary psychological treatment for OCD today.

picture of anafranil
Anafranil, a specific drug for OCD

Parallel to these changes were pharmaceutical advances. The development of new medicines to treat Os and Cs brought significant improvement to many OCD sufferers' lives. In 1967, Anafranil was reported effective for OCD. Prozac, Luvox, Zoloft, Paxil, and other drugs were also developed.2

This history will not attempt to chart developments since 1980, so it will stop right here, except for quickly mentioning two events.

picture of book

In 1989, the publication of the book The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing led to an intriguing development. When some pet owners and veterinarians saw media reports about Judith Rapoport's popular book, they pointed out the remarkable similarity between OCD and a veterinary condition in which dogs lick their fur over and over in a manner seeming to resemble a compulsion. This led to a new animal model for OCD.3

Another noteworthy event occurred a few years earlier when a group of OCD sufferers founded the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation—representing a step by OCD sufferers (and their families and friends) toward mutual assistance and support.4



1Here's more on the history of behavior therapy for OCD.

2More on the development of new drugs for OCD.

3How media attention led to a breakthrough.

4See www.ocfoundation.org. It later changed its name to the International OCD Foundation.


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