I was recently interviewed by a local university for an article about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This Q&A explains the basics of OCD and the effective, non-medication treatment that works for OCD.
Question 1: What is the biggest misconception you’ve heard and/or seen about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Misconception #1: Many people believe OCD has to include compulsive behaviors like hand-washing or excessive cleaning. Truth be told, I actually see more OCD in the form of obsessive and intrusive thoughts than I do with the classic compulsive behaviors.
Misconception #2: There’s a misconception that people must live with anxiety their whole lives, or that they must take medication for it for their whole lives. That is not true! [READ MORE HERE]. The neural pathways in the brain which create anxiety and obsessive thinking can be changed. Thus, the root cause of anxiety can be addressed and resolved.
The answer: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can provide long-term, preventative relief from anxiety/OCD (see Question 6 below).
Question 2: From your experience with treating OCD, what seems to be the biggest trigger for the people who suffer?
OCD can look very different for different people so it is difficult to generalize. People with OCD suffer from repetitive (and often disturbing) thoughts that they can’t seem to get out of their heads – these are Obsessions. These thoughts, and the inability to “let it go,” can cause a lot of anxiety.
Sometimes that anxiety creates an urge for people to repeatedly perform certain behaviors or routines – these are Compulsions. The urge to do the behaviors is an attempt to try to ease their anxiety.
[pullquote]Some people with OCD have obsessions only, while others have both obsessions and compulsive behaviors.[/pullquote]
Most people who have OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational, yet they feel powerless to stop them which actually increases anxiety.
Common obsessive thoughts include:
• fear of a detrimental error by overlooking something
• worry about things being in proper order
• fear of harming someone
• feeling over-responsible for others
• worries about germs or illness
Common compulsive behaviors include:
• arranging things
• checking and re-checking things (like did I forget anything?)
Question 3: OCD is often labeled a “mental illness.” Do you agree with this label?
I hate the label “mental illness” because some people attach a stigma to it…and that causes people to avoid getting treatment that could lead them to a happier life. At least 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety, but only about one-third of those seek help, even though anxiety is highly treatable without medication.
Like other types of anxiety, OCD involves what I call “a thinking problem” or “anxiety thinking.” There is a problem with the thinking process and in that respect it could be considered mental as opposed to physical illness.
The great news is that thinking problems can be corrected! Neuroscience research shows that the brain can reconfigure itself and learn new and more effective ways of thinking when trained to do so.
Question 4: Do you believe that people are born with OCD, or is it something that develops over time?
Research supports the understanding that OCD involves problems with the brain circuitry that causes anxiety thinking. No one knows for sure all the factors that could be involved in development of anxiety/OCD. Possible factors include perhaps genetic predisposition, perhaps learned behavior when kids grow up in a family where adults have anxiety, perhaps an illness, or even ordinary life stressors.
Question 5: How are patients diagnosed?
During an assessment, I look at whether a person has obsessions and/or compulsions, but the biggest factor in diagnosis is whether these thinking problems and behaviors cause a real problem in the person’s life.
I always say there’s not a problem unless there’s a problem. I’m looking to see whether the thoughts and/or behaviors are creating a problem with the person’s daily routine, job, school, relationships, social activities, or other activities the person values.
Question 6: What types of treatments are available to patients who suffer from OCD? Is there one particular treatment that seems to be more effective?
Extensive scientific research and my own clinical experience demonstrate that the most effective long-term solution for anxiety/OCD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
CBT is a very specific sort of non-medication treatment that is focused on correcting the anxiety thinking that is underlying the obsessions and compulsions. It helps people learn different and more accurate, effective ways of thinking – this can significantly reduce or eliminate obsessions and compulsions.
CBT is very focused on teaching people new tools and techniques for changing old thinking patterns and old behavior patterns. To address the behaviors associated with OCD compulsions, exposure treatment is often included in CBT.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a systematic way of gradually exposing people to the things/situations that cause anxiety while teaching them new ways to respond (eliminating the need for compulsive behavior).
Question 7: Do you think OCD can be cured?
The concept of a “cure” really means correcting the thinking problems and the anxiety thinking that are underlying the obsessions and compulsions. Yes! These thinking processes can be successfully changed with CBT.
Question 8: How did you become a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders such as OCD?
I decided to specialize in holistic solutions for anxiety because so many people have been told they have to live with anxiety for their whole lives…or that they have to take medications for their whole lives. It is my mission to dispel this myth!
People don’t realize that is completely possible to get rid of all kinds of anxiety. They haven’t been education to understand that anxiety is caused by processes in the brain that they can learn how to change. They just need to learn the effective tools to use. I’ve seen so many people literally change their lives with CBT and holistic tools and techniques that treat anxiety.