Harm OCD: Why Response Prevention Works

By Becky Jane Stephenson

Guest post

I want to share a post I wrote on one of my pages. The associated image is blurred out as I know it will be triggering for some.

This post is an example of how OCD can show up, particularly for those with intrusive harming thoughts (obsession) and how exposure-response prevention (ERP) works.

This morning after helping me with something, my partner must have left the feared object out. Upon passing it, I noticed almost immediately the usual compulsion was there, that is, ‘I must put that away “just in case”‘. The urge to give in was there, and then the visual image intrusions followed with the many various ways someone could get hurt. So my anxiety heightened as did the urge to put the object away.

Typically, this is where a person would carry out that compulsion to make sure and be certain that there was no way any of those thoughts could have any possibility of happening. Of course, OCD makes these scenarios as disturbing and far fetched as possible!

The moment we engage in that compulsion, we have just sent information back to our brain that those very ridiculous and far fetched thoughts had real potential and that there was more possibility of them happening for real. So now each time it happens, and we see a trigger, the brain has now learnt the response is to be afraid. It then sends the need to do the compulsion as the answer.

Response prevention in ERP is to notice the thought is there. But not do anything about it, to not give the thoughts any power at all, not feed it. So for me, it was to leave the object where it was and deliberately now and then glance at it, and then allow both the thoughts to ramp up and be there coupled with the feeling of needing to move it, but not.

Within minutes the distress has gone, the anxiety has gone, I still haven’t moved it, and NOTHING bad has happened. The thoughts haven’t played out for real, because they’re just thoughts.

Through practising ERP step by step, it rewires our brain and lets go of the unhelpful habits and helps us to learn which thoughts need a response and which don’t. OCD runs on scenarios that have less than 1% chance of ever becoming true. The moment we learn that these thoughts are nothing but bull****, the moment we start living life out of its control.

Becky was diagnosed with OCD in 2015 and recovered recently. She says her treatment plan consisted of exposure-response prevention, cognitive therapy and medication, and Mindfulness is something she’s trialled, and now practices regularly. Presently, Becky researches OCD with enthusiasm and says she has a specific interest on the neuroscience behind the disorder. She says, “With my experience, knowledge and understanding around OCD, I have been able to work as an advocate on social media (see links below).” Becky enjoys working with the charity OCD-Action as peer-support facilitator. She says, “I’m available twice-monthly via voice-call and provide a non-judgemental understanding. OCD-Action is a safe place to talk and provides hope that remission is possible.”

YouTube:The OCD Warrior FB Page: You have Those Thoughts Too OCD-Action: It’s Time to Act

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