Have you ever double-checked to make sure you turned off the stove? Or maybe drove back home after leaving for work to make sure you unplugged the iron? Many folks retrace their steps now and then to be sure their house isn't burning down. But for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, worrisome thoughts become overwhelming. The need to check and recheck interferes with daily life. Thankfully, cognitive behavioral therapy can help.
Before Michelle Hoeltzle helps her son, William, check the chicken coop for eggs, she has to pause and remind herself that it's safe. "I worry about getting diseases from the animal." Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, also causes Michelle to become overwhelmed by troubling thoughts about... "My son. I would be constantly worried that he was hurt somehow or that he was somehow going to be killed or stolen". Plus Michelle had a debilitating fear that by forgetting to do something, she would cause a catastrophe. "I had this vision of the whole barn burning down and all the animals suffering in a fire." To cope, Michelle spent hours every day, checking things over and over to convince herself that the animals were secure and her son was safe.
Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz, a Mayo Clinic psychologist, says people with OCD, "Come to develop the habit of having to engage in these rituals over and over again in order to feel less anxiety." The best treatment for OCD? Dr. Abramowitz says, cognitive behavioral therapy. It's based on what's called exposure and response prevention. For example, on the farm, exposure to the alpacas helps Michelle see they are not in any danger. And response prevention helps break the connection between having to constantly check the gate in order to feel better about the animal's well-being. Therapy gave Michelle the tools she needed to stop the checking. And she can finally enjoy a day without worrying about disaster.
In addition to constantly feeling the need to check things, some people with OCD may also repeatedly wash their hands, chant to themselves or horde things like old mail or newspapers. There's no known cause for OCD, but Dr. Abramowitz says cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment. It works because it gives people tools to help them break free from obsessive-compulsive behaviors and thoughts. Antidepressants may help a small percentage of people struggling with OCD.
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