I specialise in working with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and have been pleased to help many people recover from the grip it’s held over their lives. It’s incredibly rewarding seeing people turn things around to become more calm, confident, happy and in control. Sessions typically include:
- the neuroscience behind obsessive compulsive disorder
- relaxation techniques to reduce stress
- strategies to help you see the obsession as less threatening
- different ways to respond to the obsession and reduce the use of compulsive behaviours and rituals
- strategies to reduce the frequency of the obsession and level of distress associated with it
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD?
Obsessions are relentless, intrusive, unwanted, nonsensical thoughts that cannot be shaken off. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours that a person feels compelled to repeat over and over again to ward off danger and calm the feelings of anxiety and fear. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD as it is widely known, is an anxiety disorder that most commonly involves fears relating to contamination, doubt or violence.
A person suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder with an obsession about contamination might worry that their hands are dirty and that they will contaminate and poison someone. Even though they know that this is a completely irrational thought, it feels true. This fear then leads to compulsive handwashing.
A person with OCD with a compulsion to repeatedly check things is often plagued by doubts that something bad will happen because they have forgotten to do something. An example of this might be leaving the door unlocked and fearing the house will be burgled. Some people with OCD will have a ritual number of times they have to check things in order to feel safe again.
Someone with obsessive compulsive disorder who has violent thoughts might worry about harming themselves or someone else. For example, they might fear that they will push someone under a train as they are waiting on the station platform. Even though they have absolutely no intention of doing so, the fear of losing control and acting impulsively is terrifying. It is worth mentioning that there is no evidence that anyone with OCD has ever acted upon these violent thoughts.
The most common compulsions are handwashing, cleaning things, counting things, checking things, putting things in a specific order, hoarding objects, touching things or repeating words or numbers in a pattern.
According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), 1-2% of the UK population have OCD.
It is not uncommon for people with obsessive compulsive disorder to also suffer from depression.
What causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD?
It is believed that obsessive compulsive disorder is a medical condition related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Some brain scientists believe that OCD is a neurological problem originating in the parts of the brain responsible for efficient thought (the caudate nucleus), our primitive survival responses (the orbital cortex) and the feelings that tell us something terrible is going to happen (the cingulate gyrus). This causes these parts of the brain to work overtime and literally become over-heated. It is a bit like a faulty thermostatic control that does not know when to switch off. Consequently, the person with obsessive compulsive disorder believes they are in danger. Although the conscious mind knows the threat is not real, it cannot shake off the feelings of fear and anxiety.
There is some evidence that obsessive compulsive disorder may be hereditary. Someone with the disorder is 4 times more likely to have another family member with the condition than someone without OCD.
Whilst, stress commonly heightens obsessive compulsive disorder, it does not cause it.
Facts about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD
- Acting out the compulsions tends to make the obsessive compulsive disorder worse, particularly in the longer term. It is like a hungry beast whose appetite cannot be satisfied.
- Learning to stand back and make the distinction between the faulty messages and the appropriate messages is key to gaining control over OCD.
- It is not how you ‘feel’ but what you ‘do’ that counts.
- There is some evidence to suggest that when you change your behaviour, you change your brain chemistry.
Carolyn is a counsellor, hypnotherapist and supervisor based in Plymouth, UK. She offers counselling and hypnotherapy at her practice in Plymouth and online via Zoom.