Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an illness that affects 1 in 50 adult Americans, and twice that many will have experienced it at some time in their lives. It ranges from merely annoying to an emotionally crippling condition which, if left untreated, can affect a person’s relationships, work and family life and lead to depression and other problems.
The core of the OCD is an obsession with something, such as cleanliness. The anxiety generated by this obsession is dealt with by the associated compulsion, typically a repetitive ritual, such as continually washing the hands, often until they are raw. Sufferers are powerless to stop their compulsive behaviors, and may have elaborate “rules” as to how they must be done. They will repeat them over and over until they feel they have got it right. However, unlike the compulsions to drink or shop, OCD compulsions do not give the sufferer pleasure, but only a measure of relief.
It is now accepted by the medical profession that the cause may be an imbalance of a neurotransmitter in the brain called serotonin. This is a chemical messenger in the brain that is involved with controlling mood states and is believed to be able to regulate repetitive behaviors.
OCD’s take many forms, such as: contaminating obsessions, concern with dirt or germs, or excessive concern with chemical or environmental contamination; counting compulsions, having to count up to certain numbers; checking compulsions – checking doors, locks, stoves, brakes etc; hoarding or collecting compulsions; repeating rituals, going in and out of doors; aggressive obsessions, like fear of harming people, horrific images, doing something embarrassing, terrible events like death, fire etc.; even severe workaholics are sufferers. OCDs are sometimes accompanied by depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, attention deficit disorder and many other anxiety disorders.
Children are frequently suffers of OCD, but it can affect a person of any age. OCDs can come and go at any stage of a person’s life, disappear for a period of time and then return in a different form. They range from mildly interfering to extremely incapacitating, lasting more than an hour a day. Sufferers are aware that their behavior is irrational and disruptive, but they have great difficulty in controlling it. Dealing on a daily basis with someone with OCD can put a severe strain on families and relationships, so it is important to work with them as well as the sufferer. Sensitivity is important, because sometimes these rituals are the only way the person has to communicate.
OCD is usually treated by a triple approach: education, medication and therapy. In treating OCD, self-education is the priority, and I recommend finding out as much as possible about this disorder. The first stop, if you have Internet access is the excellent web site of the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation, www.ocfoundation.org, or call or write to them at OCF, 337 Notch Hill Road, North Branford, CT 06471, Tel: 203-315-2190, Fax: 203-315-2196. The foundation has an excellent and comprehensive bookstore online, and will also send you a printed catalogue if you contact them.
The second step is medication. Modern drugs can produce dramatic results and OCDs are normally treated by a class of drugs known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs.) SRIs such as Anafranil must be prescribed by a doctor because of their powerful effects on the brain and body’s chemistry. Once you are on SRIs, it is dangerous to change the dosage or stop them on your own, even though you may experience unpleasant of side effects.
There are a number of therapies that are useful and cognitive behavioral psychologists have the longest track record. Group therapy led by an experienced facilitator is also effective. Hypnotherapy can greatly assist suffers of OCD because it quickly gets to the roots of the obsession and helps to reframe it. It is also useful in helping the individuals regulate their own body chemistry, thus helping them avoid or get weaned from dependence on SRIs.
A few years ago a 19-year-old college student came to my practice in London who had formed an obsession for a pretty girl student in his class. He had a compulsive need to watch her all the time and had been stalking her until the College authorities warned that he would be expelled. This obsession for the girl occupied most of his day, although he admitted that he was not in love with her. He had become deeply depressed and the College doctor prescribed Prozac, but the side effects made him even more depressed.
I needed to find out the underlying cause of his disorder, and I was able to regress him in hypnosis back to a single trauma that turned out to have been the primary cause. Over a period of four months I was able to teach his unconscious mind how to change and then overcome his obsession.
I then tested these changes by taking him through a process of desensitization. In the process he found he no longer wanted Prozac, and gradually he weaned himself off this drug. He went back to attending lectures, writing essays and leading a normal student life – and his exam results were excellent!