I watched episode 4 of VH1's OCD Project. The person I identified most with in this episode was Kristen. I don't have contamination OCD, but I've been in that paralysis of avoiding doing a task because I will do it wrong and ruin everything. For Kristen, putting away her laundry was a monumental battle that doesn't play as dramatically on tv as eating off a toilet. It took a lot of courage on her part to risk contaminating everything she had just washed, and then be deluged with the anxiety of wanting to clean it all over again. I love her brother Theo. He is her link to the former "free spirit" she said she used to be. He knows she's still in there somewhere.
The phone call between an inconsolable Kristen and Theo, as he gently told her he wasn't going to come get her, was very powerful. He reminded her that what she wanted was to get better, which means putting aside the desperate desire to flee the anxiety. My therapist just recently talked about the parallels between the intense anxiety of obsessions, and a child who is inconsolable. The fear is very "young," and comes from a different place than our adult selves. I recognized the intonation in Kristen's voice. I've done this with my therapist, where he has to guide me from point to point when I was frozen in fear.
But I am troubled by the dynamic between David Tolin and Kristen and his tendency to revert to "black and white, all or nothing" thinking when he interacts with her, with a dose of power struggle thrown in--his insistence on a 5 minute shower as an end to itself, his "either fight the OCD or don't," and the snarky comment about Kristen needing to drop the Princess Act. The therapeutic alliance is really important in Exposure Therapy for a lot of people. The first thing Leonard said to me when we met was, "You have to tell me if you don't like me, because rapport is essential."
Does David Tolin really believe that Kristen is just spoiled and stubborn? He said he wouldn't negotiate with her, that she needed to either do the Exposures or not. For some people, this might work as a strategy, but in my opinion it sucks. ERP has a high drop out rate, which is disturbing, because ERP is a treatment that works for OCD. I believe there is a temptation on the part of some therapists to label someone "non-compliant" if they don't do their exposures, instead of figuring out why they aren't willing to do them, and working to give those reasons less credibility. Even 20 years ago, people with OCD were considered hopeless by much of the therapeutic community. I'm sure it is exhausting being an Exposure therapist at times. It's exhausting living with OCD.
OCD will always want to bargain and argue, but people with OCD are more than just the OCD. The healthy part of Kristen signed up for a hellacious show because she wants to get better. That is who Theo addressed when he talked to his sister on the phone, and he acknowledged the fearful part of her with considerable compassion. When we feel OCD anxiety, it is using our one and only nervous system. It feels real. OCD has no respect for me as a person--it is all about reducing anxiety, even at the expense of having a life. It feels death defying to put away clean laundry if you believe it's contaminated. It isn't pretend. Facing that fear by doing Exposures takes courage, and in spite of the perception of Kristen as a Princess, she is showing a lot of courage.