OCD Awareness Week: Lack of expertise on OCD putting sufferers at risk, says world-renowned expert

Published: 11 October 2011

New Institute headed by McGill researcher will focus on training, better dissemination of knowledge

Experts used to think that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was not curable. That is simply not true anymore, says Dr. Debbie Sookman, an internationally-renowned OCD expert who has treated 7,000 cases in her clinic.  The problem is that sufferers do not have access to sufficient specialized resources and therefore are often not treated early enough or appropriately.

“I hear so many tragic stories from parents of children who are not receiving the appropriate treatment during their formative and vulnerable years,” says Dr. Sookman, Associate Professor at McGill University’s Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic at the McGill University Health Centre, the only clinic in Canada devoted solely to the disorder through the life span. “With timely and appropriate treatments the prognosis for OCD is excellent. Too many patients are mislabeled ‘resistant to treatment’ without ever having received best-practice treatment.”

OCD is the fourth most common mental health disorder and among the ten leading causes of medical disability worldwide. It is estimated that OCD and related disorders affect five per cent of the population, or 1.6 million Canadians*. Symptoms include excessive fear of illness or disaster, distressing intrusive thoughts, and associated rituals such as repetitive washing or checking. When left inadequately treated, OCD symptoms can rapidly worsen and interfere with essential functioning such as school attendance and child care. In extreme cases, OCD-related symptoms may become life-threatening. Specialized and timely interventions are required to reduce unnecessary suffering and prevent progression to disability.

“Intervention for OCD is a specialized field,” explains Sookman. “The first-line treatment of choice for OCD is specialized cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), but this is not happening for many patients. Very few clinics across Canada have the necessary expertise or resources to treat OCD relative to the clinical need. Many sufferers including children and seniors are prescribed medication prematurely or repeatedly without specific psychological interventions that are essential to recovery. When experts have developed effective treatments but these are inaccessible to sufferers, this is a truly tragic situation that requires urgent change.”

To address the shortage of professionals specialized in OCD and improve the dissemination of expertise on the disorder, Dr. Sookman has established The Canadian Institute for Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (CIOCD) whose Scientific Advisory Committee comprises over 40 of the top OCD expert psychologists and psychiatrists in the world. Among the Institute’s mandates across Canada are to advance best-practice specialty OCD treatment through the life span, and to promote scientific research designed to improve preventative strategies and clinical intervention.

The CIOCD Accreditation Task Force is developing criteria to increase the number of clinicians and centres credentialed to treat OCD with pharmacotherapy and/or CBT. The goal of the Institute’s Accreditation Program is to ensure that OCD sufferers of all ages across Canada have access to reliable information about updated treatment options and timely specialized treatment delivery. The CIOCD Affiliate Outreach Educational Program will have representation and input from every Canadian province. The Canadian Institute for Obsessive Compulsive Disorders expects to take a leadership role in establishing the specialty OCD accreditation standard internationally.

The CIOCD will hold its inaugural event on November 11 in Toronto. For more information about this event and the CIOCD, please visit:

*Data from The Canadian Institute for Obsessive Compulsive Disorders



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