Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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202-331-1566

2440 M Street, NW
Suite 710
Washington, DC 20037

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OCD By Any Other Name . . .Is Just OCD

By Lynne Gots, posted on December 1st, 2017.

OCD is a shape-shifter. Its content often changes, especially with primarily internal obsessions and compulsions (involving thoughts about harm, sexual orientation, and relationships). For many with the disorder, addressing the ever changing obtrusive thoughts is like playing Whack-a-Mole.

The internet is full of articles about “hOCD,”(OCD about sexual orientation), “rOCD,” (OCD about the “rightness” of a relationship) and “Pure O” (obsessions in the absence of compulsions) OCD. Although these designations can be appealing if you’re trying to make sense of distressing thoughts, I find this alphabet-soup approach to OCD problematic for several reasons.

  • It places too much emphasis on form over function. OCD isn’t about what it seems to be about. Every subtype of OCD has at its root the inability to tolerate uncertainty.
  • It encourages compulsive checking and reassurance-seeking. Many of the forums and sites dedicated to OCD subtypes list the differences between OCD doubting and signs of a genuine issue, such as sexual identity conflicts or relationship problems. Checklists contain generalizations. But individuals don’t necessarily fall into neat categories. So more confusion results, leading to an endless cycle of checking and searching for reassurance.
  •  It implies a definitive, black-and-white answer. In reality, OCD won’t accept yes or no. If doubts about a specific content fade, new ones will surface unless the driving mechanism—intolerance of uncertainty—has been addressed.
  • In the case of so-called “Pure O” OCD, it’s inaccurate. OCD by definition involves obsessional thoughts and compulsive actions performed to neutralize the distress from the thoughts. The compulsions may not observable to others, as they are with, say,hand-washing; they may involve covert mental rituals, such as reviewing, comparing, or silently repeating prayers, words, or numbers. Rumination and worry in the absence of compulsions do exist but are more likely symptoms of generalized anxiety or depression, not OCD.

Addressing the form OCD takes is important only in designing a treatment plan for ERP (Exposure/Response Prevention).  To keep the OCD from becoming a pattern in which one obsession dissipates only to have another pop up, focus on accepting uncertainty.

Here’s how to begin the process of response-prevention:

1) Refrain from checking and analyzing.

2)Acknowledge that OCD is causing you to doubt yourself and that no amount of research will help you arrive at an answer you’ll believe.

3)Don’t try to categorize your OCD.

4)Give up trying to figure out if your fears are justified.

5)Stop seeking advice from internet forums.

Taking these steps will start you on the path to recovery and keep the moles from lying in wait to ambush you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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Seeing Anxiety as an Opportunity Instead of a Threat

By Lynne Gots, posted on August 22nd, 2017.

My newly rescued terrier Dewey is, in almost all ways, an excellent dog. He’s energetic, inquisitive, friendly, and affectionate. But when we’re out walking and he spies another dog, he turns into a whirling, barking Tasmanian Devil. Luckily he weighs only eighteen pounds—any bigger and he’d knock me off my feet. Still, the prospect of a surprise canine encounter made me dread our daily outings.

So I signed up for a Distracted Dog class. I already had been working on undoing some of the bad habits Dewey had acquired over the seven years of his life before coming to us. He’s learning how to wait for his food, lie down instead of jumping up and begging, and walk on a leash without pulling. The challenge now is to keep his attention on me in more stressful situations.

Before the first day of class, our instructor asked us to send her a hierarchy of our dog’s top five distractions, much like the hierarchy of anxiety triggers used in CBT for exposure and response prevention. At the top of Dewey’s list was “seeing another dog approach while on a walk.”

In treating anxiety, I help people stop avoiding and start approaching what they most fear. I needed to apply the same mindset to changing my dog’s (and my own) reactions to the stimuli that send him into a frenzied display of doggie frustration.

So, instead of anxiously scanning the environment for other dogs in order to do an about face before Dewey spots them, I’ve started looking for ways to practice building his self-control. As a result, I’ve observed a dramatic change in my own (if not yet Dewey’s) emotional reaction. I’m excited instead of tense when I see neighbors out walking their dogs. I now interpret a potential trigger not as a threat to steer clear of but as an opportunity to seek out.

If I were drawing only from my personal experience, my method wouldn’t carry much weight. But the results of several research studies support my anecdotal evidence. Saying, “I feel excited” instead of attributing physical arousal to anxiety—a technique called “anxious reappraisal”—can improve singing, test-taking, and public speaking performance by putting people in an “opportunity mindset” even though the physiological markers of anxiety such as increased heart rate and cortisol levels remain elevated.

In fact, you don’t even need to tell yourself you’re excited; just believing that anxiety can improve rather than impair performance helped test takers score higher on the GRE. It’s a trick actors often use to cope with stage fright. Those who are successful don’t necessarily feel less nervous. But they’re able to view the fluttering of their hearts and rumbling of their stomachs as feelings that give energy to their performance.

Confronting anxiety is hard. You can’t make progress unless you’re willing to face the situations you fear. But changing the way you think about arousal might make it a little easier to rise to the challenge.




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Five Common Myths about OCD

By Lynne Gots, posted on July 9th, 2017.

The people I treat for OCD hate it when someone says, “I’m so OCD!,” usually as a way of explaining pickiness or excessive neatness. I do, too. Not only does the comment minimize the severe suffering a person with actual OCD experiences; it also perpetuates a number of prevalent misconceptions about the disorder.

  1. OCD isn’t a personality quirk. It’s a  neuropsychiatric illness involving persistant, intrusive mental images or thoughts (obsessions) that create extreme emotional distress–typically anxiety, but sometimes disgust. Compulsions develop as a way of alleviating the intolerable feelings.
  2. OCD isn’t perfectionism. Perfectionism is one thinking style commonly, but not always, seen with OCD. Other cognitive patterns, such as an excessive sense of responsibility, a tendency to overestimate danger, and an intolerance of uncertainty also frequently accompany OCD.
  3. Not everyone with OCD is a neat freak. Neatness may be characteristic of people with OCD who have a compulsion to create order and symmetry to feel “just right.” Or the need to clean and wash may be a response to contamination obsessions. But other forms of OCD involve primarily mental images and rituals often invisible to the casual observer.
  4. OCD is easy to spot. Washing and checking compulsions may be obvious to family and friends. But many other obsessions and compulsions occur strictly in the sufferer’s mind, making them hard to detect even for mental health professionals. Given the shameful nature of these mental intrusions, such as thoughts of committing a violent act, people afflicted with this type of OCD may suffer in silence for years–seventeen, on average–before obtaining the proper diagnosis and treatment.
  5. OCD is hard to treat. Many traditional mental health practitioners hold this view. In fact, with the correct, evidence-based treatments (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and medication, if needed), people with OCD can feel relief within a few months.

These myths do a disservice to those in the grips of OCD. Let’s set the record straight.

 

 

 

 




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This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.

Contact Dr. Gots

202-331-1566

2440 M Street, NW
Suite 710
Washington, DC 20037

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If you don't receive a response to an email from Dr. Gots in 48 hours, please call the office and leave a voicemail message.

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