Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by an ongoing pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that can lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
The motive behind the compulsions is to reduce or eliminate fear. However, once established, the pattern continues and as the illness progresses, usually the symptoms increase (i.e. cause more distress and take up more time in one’s life).
Many of my clients with OCD contact me because they feel as if they can’t do as much as they used to, or that they are consumed by their thoughts. Does this sound familiar to you?
We all have fears and concerns. We all want clean hands and we all make sure the stove is turned off before we leave. But for a person with OCD, these concerns are not attended to by simply washing their hands and taking a quick look at the stove before leaving the house. The hands may need to be washed several times and then once clean they cannot touch public surfaces (for example using a tissue or your sleeve to open doors). After the stove is checked, a person will OCD may need to check it again, possibly several times before leaving the house. Once a few minutes away from home a debilitating doubt creeps in:
Did I turn off the stove?”
These are just examples, and the symptoms of OCD may look different for you. If you are struggling with OCD, please reach out for help.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to be diagnosed with OCD, obsessive thoughts and compulsions must take up at least an hour of your day. To read more on OCD diagnosis see the full article here.
Exposure and systematic desensitization therapy for OCD
One way of understanding OCD is as an intolerance for anxiety. A person with OCD avoids experiencing anxiety by taking action. In our example, this means washing hands again rather than tolerate the feeling that your hands may be dirty (even though on some level you know that they are not) or checking the stove (even though you just checked it twice).
Therapy for OCD involves practicing tolerating your anxiety as if it’s a muscle that needs to be strengthened. It is facing your fears so you can become a stronger person and take back control of your life.
What you need to know about OCD therapy
Some people find the idea of facing fears to be uncomfortable and the last thing they want to do. In fact, they spend their days avoiding this very thing. What you need to know is that through facing your fears you can find dramatic improvement. Studies have shown that exposure therapy and systematic desensitization therapy* is effective for treating OCD. One of the benefits of working with a psychologist is that you don’t have to face your fears alone. Under the help and guidance of Dr. Nadolski, an experienced OCD clinician, a step by step process you are comfortable with can be developed.
Untreated OCD can become crippling to your life. The more you experience obsessions and compulsions the worse they can get. However, learning to resist and taking back control has been shown to improve symptoms considerably, and you can improve your quality of life.
*Exposure Therapy for OCD involves identifying and facing your fears under the careful guidance of your psychologist. Although the idea may seem uncomfortable, the process and the outcome can be liberating.
Systematic Desensitization therapy is a slow and gradual process of exposing yourself to the fears that are controlling your symptoms. It is a type of exposure therapy and is not only used for OCD but is also successful in treating phobias.
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