Mastering obsessive-compulsive disorder is possible, although the sufferer or those around him may think that they are in a tunnel with no known lights. However, there are effective psychological treatments to cope with it.
An obsession is ‘a psychic disturbance produced by a fixed idea’. It is also ‘an idea that with tenacious persistence assaults the mind’. In the colloquial language we speak more of manias than of obsessions, reserving this last term to speak of a mania or fixation very disturbing.
Mastering obsessive-compulsive disorder is possible
The two great fears of the human being are death and madness. Both suppose a process without return. In addition, they indicate a loss of self-control. That fear of madness is what leads many patients to deny their obsessions. Or at least the severity of its symptoms.
The truth is that not all obsessive symptoms have the same severity. The obsessive symptomatology is like those Russian dolls that we all know. They are embedded inside each other until they reach the smallest one. Obsessive compulsive disorder is the most serious level. It manifests with incapacitating obsessions and compulsions.
A significant number of people who want to master obsessive-compulsive disorder suffer embarrassment and discomfort and therefore do not seek help. On the other hand, many of the people who have taken the step and have asked for help have been disappointed by the results obtained.
Many patients have received the help of well-meaning health professionals, but lacking in training to provide valid strategies and tools. Often, these encounters with the health system generate suffering, guilt, discouragement and distrust. Thus, many people lose hope and confidence in their ability to master obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The truth is that there is still no medical cure. However, psychologists have valuable tools to master obsessive-compulsive disorder. In fact, the treatment of choice is based on cognitive-behavioral psychological therapy.
Therapy to master obsessive compulsive disorder
The therapies that are framed in the cognitive behavioral current have an important element to favor the recovery of people suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. An investigation carried out by Dr. Lewis showed that behavioral therapy generates positive changes in brain activity (Yaryura-Tobias and Neziroglu, 1997b).
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps by providing the necessary tools so that the person can handle the obsessions without having to give way to compulsions (behaviors that feed their own obsessions). The continued practice and use of techniques and skills learned in therapy helps to make the symptoms manageable.
A successful behavioral treatment requires motivation and daily practice. When medication and therapy are carried out together, the effects of each are enhanced. The medication alters serotonin levels and somehow stabilizes the patient to be able to work with him in therapy.
What is the cognitive behavioral therapy of obsessive-compulsive disorder based on?
The main techniques to master obsessive-compulsive disorder are exposure and prevention of response. The purpose of the exhibition is to reduce the anxiety and discomfort associated with obsessions through a process called habituation. A natural process that blocks one’s own compulsive behavior.
In many cases, it is done using a long-term exposure to the anxiety of real life and situations that evoke rituals (compulsions). This is called “in vivo” exposure. For example, the person may be asked to touch a feared object without reducing anxiety through handwashing (in a case of obsession with contamination).
Through repeated practice the patient realizes that the disastrous consequences do not appear. He also realizes that there is a point at which the anxiety he feels begins to diminish in a natural way: the propi body deactivates the alert mechanisms in a natural way. This is the process of habituation.
The ideal is that the exhibition is carried out in stages, in very small steps that lead to the final goal of a habituation.
Complete the dreaded object or situation. This is done through the elaboration of an exposure hierarchy, graduated from lower to higher anxiety.
Prevention of ritual and cognitive changes
The purpose of ritual prevention is to decrease the frequency of the latter. The person is instructed to have alternatives to compulsion when the time comes to face those thoughts that torment him.
The cognitive component of cognitive behavioral therapy involves the modification of distorted thoughts and beliefs. However, it is necessary to note that cognitive therapy is useful if it is combined with exposure and ritual prevention. By itself, the results we observe are not conclusive.
As we have seen, there are tools and approaches that can help us to master obsessive-compulsive disorder. Most of the interventions have as a fundamental component the exposure and the prevention of response, together with the modification of beliefs or distorted thoughts.