“OCD is not a disease that bothers; it is a disease that tortures.”– J. J. Keeler
Have you ever returned to your home to make sure that you turned off the coffee pot, locked the back door, or shut off the sprinklers. That wouldn’t be unusual. We’ve all done it. But, now picture yourself doing it every time you leave the house and maybe even multiple times each leaving. Now that is when it becomes compulsive checking and is indicative of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In fact repetitive checking is the most common symptom of OCD.
An OCD sufferer has anxiety producing intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that result in repetitive behaviors to reduce anxiety (compulsions). For example, many are concerned about germs and are unable to control the anxiety that these thoughts produce. Their solution is to engage in ritualized behaviors, such as repetitive cleaning or hand washing that for a short time relieves the anxiety. But, the sufferer comes to not trust their own memory for what has been done previously, so the thoughts and anxieties and ritualized behaviors come back again quickly. The obsessions and compulsions can become so frequent that they become a dominant theme in their lives. Hence OCD drastically reduces the quality of life and happiness of the sufferer and those around them.
At any point in time about 1% of the U.S. population suffers from OCD and about 2% of the population is affected at some time in their life. Hence, the problem is widespread and there is a need for effective treatments. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective and one component of CBT, cognitive restructuring, has been shown to be effective on its own. However, these methods are not always effective and relapse is common.
Research has demonstrated that mindfulness helps in overcoming the symptoms of OCD (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/mindfully-improve-psychological-wellbeing/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/25/alter-your-thinking-with-meditation-for-mental-health/). One mindfulness based technique, Detached Mindfulness is designed to assist the OCD sufferer to look more mindfully and objectively at their obsessive thoughts as they arise. In theory, this should help them disengage from the biases underlying their thinking.
In today’s Research News article “Cognitive restructuring and detached mindfulness: Comparative impact on a compulsive checking task.”
Ludvik and colleagues compared a no-treatment control to Cognitive Restructuring and to
Detached Mindfulness for their effectiveness in treating the thoughts underlying repetitive checking behaviors in OCD. They found that both the Cognitive Restructuring and Detached Mindfulness were effective in reducing rechecking behaviors. The repeated checking behaviors in OCD produce distrust for the individual’s memories. Detached Mindfulness was shown to be superior to Cognitive Restructuring in relieving this distrust of memory. Thus, it appears that a simple mindfulness exercise can be effective in intervening in OCD thoughts and behaviors and improving the individual’s trust for their own memory.
It should be mentioned that these results occurred with a laboratory model of OCD employed with undergraduate students. It remains for future research to demonstrate the effectiveness of Detached Mindfulness in the real world treatment of OCD. But, it would seem reasonable that a technique that brought about a real time non-judgmental awareness of the obsessive thoughts would be of significant help in relieving the individual from the torture of OCD.
So, practice mindfulness and stop compulsive checking.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies