Consider the phrase, “just in case.” For many individuals, these three short words may bring about the image of a person who is ultimately prepared in life. They cause parents of young children to carry snacks and band aids every time they leave the house and others to grab an umbrella on a cloudy day. However, for the person suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) these words represent the burden of yet another life rule that must be followed. Just in case I came into contact with a virus, I must sanitize my hands. Just in case my superstitious belief will come true, I must repeat this action.
Have you ever knocked on wood just in case your words about your own good luck may tempt fate and cause your luck to turn bad? You know this thought is probably irrational and the feared event probably won’t happen, but just in case, you did it anyway, didn’t you? Could you resist the urge to do it? Could you tolerate the discomfort of not knowing whether or not you have just shifted your destiny for the worse?
“Just in case” is one example of a thought or cognition that OCD sufferers use to rationalize their compulsions. Learning to ignore those thoughts and choose to do the opposite requires guidance, hard work, and a lot of practice. But most of all it requires a heavy dose of courage. The treatment of choice for OCD is called Cognitive Behavior Therapy. During treatment patients learn to gradually expose themselves to situations that trigger their irrational fears as they discover the irrational nature of this disorder. For many, treatment may be a frightening endeavor, but in the end it provides the promise of freedom from the awesome burden of OCD.
I am a psychologist who specializes in treating OCD, an often misunderstood affliction. For the past several years of my career, I have been dedicated to gaining an increased understanding of the many layers of this disease and how it can insidiously insert itself into people’s lives. This is the first in a series of blogs that I hope will increase understanding of OCD for the general public and help those who struggle with it feel a little more understood.