Can Hypnosis Really Help with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – OCD?
by Erika Slater
In this article you’ll discover:
- What Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is about and how it manifests itself in patients with it, and what we know today.
- Common treatments used to help with the symptoms covering medications and traditional therapies including the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique called ERP.
- Introduction to use of hypnosis as an alternative treatment to answer the question can hypnosis really help with OCD.
- Further reading and hypnosis resources around OCD covering the treatments, research, and information with the disorder.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder affecting about 4.3 million people of all ages in the U.S. The condition if severe can render some helpless, leaving them unable to live comfortable and productive lives.
It’s usually treated today with the help of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and other alternative and complimentary therapies including hypnosis. I’ll discuss all of these in this article.
Currently, there are no medical tests that can be performed to diagnose the condition, and so it’s determined by a doctor’s assessment of the symptoms and behaviors, and the impact on the patient.
Like many mental health conditions these days the professional consensus is biological and environmental factors most likely contribute to the condition, or at least place a person at risk of obtaining the disorder. There is some evidence it can be hereditary as well.
OCD cannot be prevented but early diagnoses and ongoing treatment can help provide most inflicted with the condition relief from their symptoms, and provide the opportunity for a near-normal life.
Now let’s start with understanding what is OCD and then move into current treatments…
WHAT IS OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER, OR OCD:
Anthony at an early age exhibited ritualistic behaviors, asking his mother the same question twenty or more times in the space of 2 minutes, and then eventually seemingly satisfied started the same sequence all over again a few minutes later, and continued this pattern for hours of the day. He would enter and exit doors repeatedly, and turn on and off water facets for hours on end.
Anthony had to have things done in a certain order, or things in a certain place, or he would become extremely agitated or in parent speak… have a meltdown.
In another case documented by Mark Tyrell, “A married woman called Sheila felt that if she didn’t check taps by turning them on and then off again then ‘something terrible’ would happen to her kids or husband.
Once they were turned on, she could never feel completely sure she’d turned them off properly. Sometimes she would spend up to four hours checking – over and over. This OCD checking was meant to be an anxiety reducer, meant to give her a sense of control over events, meant to help her. But in practice it was doing the opposite.” For more on this case and Tyrell’s thoughts on hypnosis and OCD read the article linked to in my resource section.
These are common stories of somebody living with OCD, and the impact of life for others around them as well. Stuck in a loop for hours on end and robbing them of time in their day and forcing them to continually living in an anxious world.
So, what’s going on here?
In a nutshell, OCD is based on two facets; obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are intrusive or uninvited thoughts, images and urges that continually occur over and over again. Individuals with OCD know these thoughts and images are not real. In fact, most will tell you they created them but can’t get rid of them, ignore them or control them.
They feel stuck drowning in these vicious cycles of negative thinking.
Compulsions are the by-product of the obsessions. What happens here is individuals create compulsions to try and reduce the stresses of their obsessive thoughts. They carry or act out certain rituals hoping to reduce or relieve the tension.
In fact, some individuals hope by engaging in the compulsions, their obsessions will eventually go away.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work, instead it usually perpetuates the obsessive thinking. When one’s obsessions and compulsions are combined, fester and grow out of control, they’re said to possess OCD.
Roughly two thirds of people develop their OCD in their adolescent years or early adulthood.
Often times, it’s a drastic change that occurred in one’s life, or prolonged stress that started the ball rolling. The obsessive thoughts start to take over and then one begins to use compulsions created as a means for trying to reduce the symptoms.
The most common types of obsessions include; fear of germs or contamination, fear of harming oneself or others, obsessions with perfection and order, preoccupation with religious images, or forbidden and unwanted sexual thoughts as well as other negative thoughts.
When the obsessions start to become so intense, the need to act out these compulsions begins to kick in. They often include behaviors or acts that one believes will eliminate the worries and stresses.
These could include; excessive hand washing, germ phobias, doors and lock checking, pacing, counting, excessive chanting/praying, etc. The problem with the compulsions is they become time consuming and disruptive on the patient.
There isn’t any evidence that adults with OCD are in denial of their symptoms or unaware, but younger children may not understand what’s going on, and so not be able to make the necessary connection of dots.
Adults are “… able to separate their obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors from normal, healthy thoughts and behaviors, which is considered the first step on the road to recovery. Children, however, generally do not have enough life experience or self-awareness to make this critical distinction. When they find themselves performing bizarre or repetitive rituals, such as washing their hands over and over, they are ashamed and feel like they are going crazy.” Excerpt from “When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” reference, which is linked to in resource section.
There was a study in Denmark supporting mounting evidence autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) share genetic roots. The study noted “compared with their typical peers, people with autism are twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of OCD and people with OCD are four times as likely to also have autism… when OCD runs in a family, autism does too.”
For most individuals with OCD, the compulsions are embarrassing for them!
So what treatment reliefs are there for those suffering with this disorder?
TREATMENTS FOR OCD:
There are a number of treatments for OCD including medication and therapies discussed here. When it comes to the therapies perform your own research before embarking on a chosen path, and discuss a therapy treatment with a specialist first, as some of the therapies can appear frightening.
Medication is usually the first stop for OCD. Doctors tend to prescribe anti-depressants as they’ve found they help to reduce symptoms more consistently. Common drugs include “Prozac” and “Zoloft” but there are others and a doctor can monitor and provide other alternatives if the patient doesn’t respond to more common drugs.
These drugs all fall under the banner of Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SRI) as research has shown these to be most effective in helping the OCD condition.
Medication can help between 40-60% of OCD sufferers with their symptoms. I’ve provided a link in the additional resource section below for more information around medications. As usual discuss with professionals and understand about the side-effects, and of course monitor. These are serious drugs and their use is not to be taken lightly.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, where the therapist helps a patient gain insight into their condition, and effectively helps the patient help themselves to lessen the symptoms by their own understanding of the triggers, has so far had limited success in its usefulness in helping those with OCD. But this isn’t to say initially it shouldn’t be pursued as like all therapies the experience and knowledge of the therapists comes into play on the success.
A common second-line of defence is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This can be used instead of, or in compliment with, drugs. There is one form of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) which has proven beneficial in treating OCD.
ERP therapy requires the patient to expose themselves deliberately, under the guidance of a trained therapist, to whatever triggers are making them anxious to engage in their obsessions.
The expectation is “when you make the choice confront your anxiety and obsessions you must also make a commitment to not give in and engage in the compulsive behavior. When you don’t do the compulsive behaviors, over time you will actually feel a drop in your anxiety level.”
To be sure “… starting Exposure and Response Prevention therapy can be a difficult decision to make. It may feel like you are choosing to put yourself in danger. It is important to know that Exposure and Response Prevention changes your OCD and changes your brain. You begin to challenge and bring your alarm system (your anxiety) more in line with what is actually happening to you.” Both quotes are excerpts from “Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy – ERP” reference which is also linked to in the resource section below.
The one thing to remember about talk therapies and CBT is they’re all focused on working with the conscious mind which is considered to about 10% of the human mind, ignoring the triggering of the obsessions and compulsions ingrained in the unconscious mind.
So, while medications and ERP can help symptoms for many patients with OCD, there’s still a lot left suffering and seeking other alternatives.
The alternatives though are considered controversial by some Doctors and therapists who only rely on medications and/or CBT, or are generally at a loss to help beyond those treatments. These same people would rarely mention other treatments. However, this is a disservice to the patients they can’t help or frightened to experience ERP therapy.
Hypnosis is one of the alternative therapies to be considered as it focuses on the unconscious mind.
In the next section I try to answer for you if hypnosis can help treat OCD.
CAN HYPNOSIS REALLY HELP TREAT OCD?
Let’s explain how it works.
At the root of obsessions leading to one’s compulsions are negative thought patterns. These negative thought patterns started to occur because of perceptions which were misrepresented or misperceived during intense periods of stress.
From that, individuals created and got ‘hooked’ on negative thought patterns that became obsessive…their obsessions!
Obsessions are seeded in the unconscious mind. Because the behavior is rooted in the unconscious then just understanding the triggers in OCD doesn’t change the behavior. So, the behaviors get played out over and over, leaving the patient trapped in this miserable cycle.
Hypnosis can help release, delete and replace negative thought patterns in the unconscious mind.
Once these patterns of negative thoughts are modified and/or deleted, then the obsessions can stop.
There are different techniques hypnotherapists use to help with OCD and one involves regression therapy. In this an attempt is made to take the patient back to the event that triggered the original obsession. So, if the patient is forever washing their hands for fear of germs or contamination, then the therapist attempts to take the patient back to the original event where the hands got dirty and created the obsession.
Once the original event is found, then, simply put, the work is focused on removing the feeling it triggers from that event.
However, regression therapy doesn’t work for everybody.
Genuinely, some people can’t get back to the one thing that caused the current obsession. Professional hypnotherapists should have more than one hypnosis technique available to them otherwise “everything starts looking like a nail!” Instead, many hypnotherapists don’t focus on finding the past trigger event, but on taking the fear out of not carrying out a compulsive behavior.
One method for achieving this is by interrupting the pattern leading to the behavior. There are other hypnosis techniques in the hypnotist’s toolbox to avoid the “hammer metaphor” once again. You can read more about general uses and benefits of pattern interrupts in an article I wrote and linked to in the resource section below.
So, advice is to seek out a hypnotherapist with experience in helping people with OCD, and ask specifically the techniques they’ll use to help, to see if they seem like somebody you want to work with. You should choose your hypnotist, to help with any challenge you have, the same way you’d chose your doctor.
Obsessive-Compulsive disorder is a miserable tyrant and a thief of a patient’s time, and there is no reason to rely on one treatment but to explore a combination to control the OCD symptoms, and this includes using hypnosis.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can manifest itself in different compulsive ritualistic behaviors repeated sometimes for hours on end and disrupting the afflicted individual’s life. Adults with the disorder are usually fully aware of what is happening, and even embarrassed about it, but struggle to control it without treatment.
Treatments include medication – often anti-depressant drugs – and a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called ERP. The medication helps with the anxiety, and ERP therapy is focused on changing the response of a patient to whatever is triggering the behavior.
Hypnosis offers a complimentary therapy to the other treatments mentioned in the article, and shows promise of providing more options for the OCD sufferer, especially where drugs and other treatments have failed to reduce the OCD symptoms.
If hypnosis is something you want to explore further directly with me then you can get more information on my Hypnosis Services here or contact me directly here. in addition to reaching out to local hypnotherapists you can check out this self-hypnosis session to help with overcoming OCD here >>>
Please let me know if this article was useful to you in the comment section below, or contact me through my contact page.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES RELATED TO OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER:
Erika Slater CH
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