Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital issued the following announcement on Oct. 13.
It happens all the time when I meet new people: I tell them that I run an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) clinic, and at least one person wants to say that they have “a little” OCD. I have a standard response to that statement, which is that we don’t think that we have “a little” schizophrenia each time we have an odd thought, so we shouldn’t say we have “a little” OCD each time we straighten up. Sometimes, a person might even say to me that they wish they had a little OCD, because it would make them more organized.
To put it plainly, there is no such thing as “a little” obsessive compulsive disorder, and believe me, you would not wish to have the symptoms of OCD. The disease was once listed by the World Health Organization as one of the top 10 most disabling disorders, mental or physical, that anyone could ever have. OCD is torturous, as one of our residents described it to me this morning.
Imagine being followed around by somebody reminding you over and over again not to slip and fall while you are walking. Imagine that person constantly yelling to watch out, that you are about to fall with every step. That’s what it’s like to live with OCD. It’s a voice constantly seeking reassurance. It’s an unrelenting bully trying to get you to avoid things that it’s afraid of — even if many of these things are not likely, or even real.
“Training” Away Intrusive Thoughts and OCD Symptoms
I once treated a patient whose OCD symptoms included a serious fear that she would push people into trains. She had no real desire to harm anyone, and I found her to be exceptionally sweet and kind. But she was standing on the train platform one day and suddenly felt an intrusive thought: the urge to push the person next to her into the path of an oncoming train. She fled the scene, called the school and dropped out. She wouldn’t be able to attend her classes if she couldn’t take the train. This was a serious condition that was having a major impact on her life.
For months she sought out therapists who all told her she was fine, that she was not going to hurt anyone. There was nothing to worry about. Her response was always the same: “But what if I do?” No amount or reassurance could convince her that she was not a dangerous person. Worse, avoiding the source of the fear was actually making her anxiety worse: when somebody pointed out that she hadn’t actually harmed anyone, she could say that it was because she hadn’t been near the train tracks.
When I saw this patient for the first time, she was getting more depressed about this whole situation. After our initial meeting and confirming the diagnosis of OCD, I told her about exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. This is the best therapy that we have available for OCD, but not many therapists do it. It involves exposing people to the things they fear and teaching them to stop themselves from resorting to safety-seeking behaviors, such as avoiding trains, for immediate gratification.
I suggested this therapy to my patient and she agreed, as she had already seen standard talk therapy fail her on several occasions. So we left the clinic and walked down the street to the train tracks. We waited for a bit and just talked about her feelings about being by the tracks. As we did, her anxiety actually started to go down and she stayed calm until the first train passed by.
Then I told her that the next step in the therapy was for me to stand by the tracks and for her to think about pushing me into a train. A few minutes later, a train was coming toward us, and instead of moving away, I put myself about a foot and a half from the track. She stood behind me and when the train came, I turned my head back and told her to push me as hard as she could. She was shaking, and just kept looking away, trying not to be in the situation that she was in. The train passed, I was still alive and we reviewed how to do the next exposure to the train. She was to put her hands on my shoulders and think of pushing me into the next train.
When the train came upon us, I again faced the track, she put her hands on my shoulders, and I kept telling her to push me. She was shaking. I could feel it in her hands, but the train went by. I told her she missed, and that we would have to try again.
This went on for three hours and at the end of the session, I asked her what she was going to do next. She looked at me with a huge smile and said she was going to call her school and enroll in classes again. She started school again a few weeks later.
Seeking Safety, Not Harm
No, I was not afraid that she was going to push me into a train. She was never going to push me into a train, as that is not what people with OCD do. People with OCD seek safety, not harm. They try to prevent things from happening rather than make them happen, and they will protect themselves and others around them to a fault.
OCD can be about germs, cleaning things, straightening up or double-triple-quadruple-checking things, but it is also intrusive thoughts of harm coming to yourself or others. It can be a fear of doing things that are wrong morally, ethically or religiously, or really, a fear of almost anything that you could think of.
OCD does not discriminate. OCD cannot be thought away. OCD is not helpful. OCD is not a joke. OCD is a serious, but treatable, mental health condition. With help from therapists at the AMITA Health Behavioral Medicine Institute, patients with OCD can learn to manage their symptoms and regain control over their life.
Original source can be found here.
Source: Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital