There are many OCD Facebook Groups. Quite often people will post about their therapy sessions.
They’ll share what the therapist said. And then they’ll post a question to the group, “Does this sound right to you? Should I continue with this therapist? She writes everything down. It’s intimidating. I don’t know what to do. Please advise.”
Hint: If your therapy session looks anything like this
you’re not in the right place!
I don’t write down a client’s obsession. Find out why.
But first, let’s talk about the goal of therapy. What is the purpose of therapy for OCD? Let’s take a poll and see what everybody thinks. Before you read this post any further, answer this poll first.
In last week’s blog post I asked what ya’ll thought about the questions asked during a therapy session. There were 14 questions and I asked which of the 14 questions had the best chance of helping this man break free from OCD.
Some people left comments on the blog, and others brought it up in their own therapy session with me.
Many people liked the questions that led the man to think about probability. What’s the probability that this or that will actually happen?
You’d think that once he realizes how slight the chances are of anything bad happening, he’ll come to his senses. But, that’s not how OCD works. OCD isn’t logical and will always exaggerate probability.
The problem with this “probability” thought process is that it focuses on the content of the obsession. (“If I don’t check this someone could get hurt.”) As if the OCD “story” is important.
A few of the 14 questions helped the man see that his compulsions weren’t really as effective as he thought. His safety behaviors weren’t full proof or nearly comprehensive enough.
While many of you thought it was very anxiety provoking to point out the futility of his efforts, you still felt it was a good way to get through to him. Once he saw how futile his efforts were he’d see no reason to continue these behaviors.
But, that’s not how OCD works. It’s like a whack-a-mole. It’ll give you something else to worry about.
The problem with taking the time to reveal the futility of his safety behaviors is that it focuses heavily on the content of his obsession. The whole conversation focuses on the electrical cords.
When it’s not at all about the electrical cords. It’s about not wanting to feel emotionally contaminated.
This is everyone’s OCD story. You might think you’re avoiding something to protect someone. You might think you’re performing a compulsion to prevent something bad from happening.
These are just stories:
- “I shower the second I get home even before I hug my baby. I don’t want to get my baby sick.”
Actually, you don’t want to feel the guilt of getting your baby sick. Your husband doesn’t shower when he comes home from work. He hugs the baby before he washes up.
“Well, that’s fine because if the baby gets sick, it will be his responsibility, not mine.”
- “I circle back and check the road because I don’t want to leave the scene of a crime. If I hit someone, I should pay the consequences.”
Actually, this isn’t about hitting someone at all. This is the story you tell. But, it’s really about not wanting to feel anxiety.
“I don’t want to be wondering all night if the sound I heard was me running over someone. If I check it out, it’s off my mind and I won’t be anxious.”
- “I’m not afraid of anyone getting hurt. I do this hop, skip and jump until it feels right. I’m not worried about anybody getting hurt if I don’t do it right. I’m just doing it because it helps me feel calm.”
Right, you’re doing it to avoid feeling bad. You’re not willing to feel “just wrong” or ill at ease. Now this is everyone’s truth. This is not just a story.
The only content that matters, is the story about not wanting to feel uncomfortable. It’s not about germs, harming someone or the world being fake. It’s not about the unwanted, intrusive thought.
You’ve got a sticky mind and the “stories” are just trying to explain why. There’s nothing to explain. You don’t like feeling uncomfortable. End of story. Nothing else matters.
The only story that matters is the one about not wanting to feel ill at ease. That’s the one story that can cause the “dis-ease.”
But, what if you see anxiety or discomfort as a challenge?
There are always two choices. Shrink from the discomfort and get caught up in a story that never ends…or seize the opportunity to practice your skills and become a lean mean fighting machine.
“Ah…there’s my worry. There’s my discomfort. Good. I want it. This is how I get stronger. It’s not about the story. It’s about my emotions. The content of my obsession is irrelevant. It’s always about being afraid of emotions.”
You can’t heal, what you won’t feel.
Maybe now you know why I don’t write down your obsession. I just don’t care what it is. It’s irrelevant.
Now, let’s take that poll again: