Interesting psychological structure of the process underlying Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

by phil on Thursday Nov 3, 2005 12:08 PM

Even if you don't have OCD, it's still interesting to see how a glitch in the human psychological system can create a downward spiral. Matrin Seligman, in What You Can Change and What You Can't describes OCD and its treatment:

Behavior therapists argue that people who are not very good at distracting themselves or dismissing thoughts are most prone to OCD. Once a horrible thought starts, if you cannot dismiss it, it makes you upset. The more upset you get, the harder it is to dismiss the thought. You get even more anxious, and a vicious circle is under way. If thought stopping by ordinary means doesn't work for you, you can perform a ritual, a compulsion, that relieves the anxiety. So if you have mounting horrible thoughts about germs, you can wash your hands thoroughly; if you are obsessed with burglars, you can check the locks. This relieves the anxiety temporarily, but when the thought returns, the temptation to perform the ritual will be even stronger because it has been reinforced by anxiety reduction. This theory fits with the subjective experience of OCD quite well.

A therapy follows directly: exposure and response prevention. If you expose the patient to the feared situation and then prevent her from engaging in her ritual, she should become very anxious at first. If she continues to refrain, however, and finds out that the expected harm does not befall her—that she does not become infected with germs, that a gas explosion does not occur—the thoughts should wane and the ritual should extinguish. Thousands of OCD patients have been helped by this therapy. (p. 92)

I don't have OCD, but I do have compulsive thinking. I get thought-itches, and then I worry about things I don't need to worry about. Then I try to stop myself from worrying, but that fails, which only makes me more anxious.


Fati said on November 9, 2005 9:48 AM:

You don't have a nature. There's no such thing as OCD or any "so-called "mental disorder," but hey, it gives people jobs, money, and something to talk about, yeah?

Philip Dhingra said on November 9, 2005 2:27 PM:

In psychology there is a concept called a "Theory of the mind." Everybody has one. This is everybody's notion of how their mind works, which helps them project onto others how everybody else's mind works.

There's this other thing called "cognitive dissonance" where it is hard to hold two contradictory thoughts in your head simultaneously.

The most common reason people don't want to believe that anybody has genuine psychological problems is because that would contradict the theory of their own mind: that everything in their mind is a direct result of their own choice.

In Seligman's survey of attitudes about the malleability of people, there is no consensus among ordinary people about whether things that happen to them are the result of their own choices, their own character, or external forces around them. The spectrum ranges from, "I alone have total control over my life" to "everything results from God" to "I had a poor upbringing."

Good psychologists do correlation studies to see which factors actually contribute to which results in people's lives. This is fairly scientific. The ultimate consensus among them then is that we are determined by a combination of genes, choice, institutions, parenting, peers, etc.

'Lin' said on November 11, 2005 5:24 PM:

You know your psychology - nice. I'm currently taking a "Principles of Learning" course and found this particularly interesting. Perhaps I'll find more articles on this topic and write a literary review on this subject. Did you source this article that you cited here?.. I'll look for it if not..

Lin said on November 11, 2005 5:27 PM:

ah... the citation would be in the first paragraph :P

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