Thursday, January 27, 2011

Skype for OCD Study: Project SOS from Drexel University(Residents from PA, NJ, NY, ID, MD, CO, HI, IA, SD, WA, WV and WI may be eligible)


I was contacted by Project SOS of Drexel University, asking if I would advertise their study comparing two different types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy/Exposure Therapy, administered via Skype. I am glad to pass on this information, and am glad that Drexel is funding research that examines factors related to the dissemination of effective, evidence based treatments for anxiety disorders.

Residents of the following states may be eligible:

Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin. JUST Added: New York, Idaho

Online Treatment Program for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Skype for OCD Study (Project S.O.S.)

General Study Information

Drexel University Anxiety Treatment and Research Program is providing treatment free of charge to eligible participants through the University's Department of Psychology. The research study seeks to examine the effectiveness of two variations of a specific type of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (i.e., Exposure and Ritual Prevention) for people with OCD. Treatment is delivered over a period of 16-18 sessions conducted via the videoconferencing program Skype.

Determine Eligibility to Enroll in Program

Let us know that you’re interested! To determine if you are eligible, please call (215) 553-7000 or email us at and provide us with your name and telephone number. Alternately, you can complete this contact form. However you choose to contact us, a member of our clinical team will be in touch with you promptly.

Here is our Project SOS Contact Information:

Phone: (215) 553-7000

Fax: (215) 762-4834

Mailing Address:
Anxiety Treatment and Research Program
Drexel University
Mail Stop 988
245 N. 15th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102-1192

Email Address:

You can learn more about the eligibility process here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hypochondria and Health Anxiety OCD

Monsieur Charles Darwin (dessin de Sis)

About 15 years ago, I was in graduate school, and I had a sharp pain in my neck, ever so brief, and it didn't even register. Then it happened again when I was feeling more stressed, after having read about a bone marrow donor drive, and immediately assuming I needed to participate, in spite of all my anxieties about needles and surgery. This time, the pain in my neck panicked me. Was I having a stroke? What was wrong? Since the internet was still primitive, I did what I used to do, which was go to the library and look for books in the medical reference section. This time I stumbled across Susan Baur's Hypochondria: Woeful Imaginings. It was like seeing myself in the mirror, through the author's accounts of people in history who suffered from fears about their health.

It wasn't enough to make my OCD vanish, but it did give me a window of understanding about my anxieties about my body, and that other people had similar fears, even though the only other person I knew of with this kind of fear was my mother. Another book I found was about Charles Darwin and his health anxieties. He wrote often about his symptoms and fears. I was fascinated, since he is a larger than life figure in history, and yet so afraid. Recently, I read about another book, The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives by Brian Dillon, which includes Charles Darwin, Glenn Gould, Michael Jackson and Andy Warhol.

Although the subtitles of these books are full of doom, I remember how much I suffered with my health fears before I had any ERP treatment. The difference now is that I did get Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy, and it is possible to get better, to move beyond torment and woe. Hypochondria, according to the DSM, includes a component of being convinced you have a disease, in spite of medical tests to the contrary. There are definitely similarities with health anxiety OCD, and some even argue they are really the same thing, but the part that differs for me is that I am never absolutely convinced I have a particular disease, but more that I want complete assurance that I don't have it, and my websearching and checking of my body are compulsions to reduce my anxiety. My obsessiveness also extends to getting stuck on whether I really have hypochondria instead of OCD(!), but I've learned that pursuing the fine distinctions makes me much worse. Paul Salkoviskis has done a lot of work with health anxiety, and he emphasizes that seeking reassurance for symptoms tends to make them worse.

Fear of being labeled as a time wasting hypochondriac in my doctor's office has complicated healthcare for me over the years, and caused a lot of angst. I understand doctors have a lot of pressures and time constraints, but health anxiety causes intense suffering, and can be treated, and the more general practice doctors realize this, the more possibility of alleviating the suffering.

Related Resource:
Jonathan Grayson's Freedom From OCD has a section on hypochondria/health anxiety
Script for Fighting Health Anxiety OCD
Skin Cancer Anxiety: Fear, Vigilance and All or Nothing Thinking

Monday, January 17, 2011

Finding a therapist for "Pure O" OCD: 5 Things to Watch Out For

I was in psychodynamic therapy for 6 years with a therapist who said I had OCD, but who didn't have a plan to treat my OCD beyond having me avoid my triggers. Previous to that I had several other therapists who didn't really have a clue about my OCD. Here are some things to watch out for--hopefully this will help you find help more effectively and not have to go through the delay I experienced in finally getting Exposure and Response Prevention(ERP) therapy.

  1. Affirmations. If a therapist tells you to repeat affirmations about being a good person, good father, good teacher, good Christian, good whatever, in order to counteract scary, violent, disturbing thoughts, this just feeds the fire, prompting ever more desperation in trying to prove it to yourself that you are not a monster or a danger to others. This is different from having a compassionate therapist who asserts your value as a human being and encourages you to take your life back from the OCD and any other negative deeply held beliefs about your worth, by doing exposure therapy.
  2. Deeper Issues. If a therapist tells you there are deeper issues you need to deal with, and then somehow your OCD thoughts will resolve or disappear once you've dealt with the issues, you can be in for a long long stint of therapy. Yes, there may be deep issues in your life, but resolving them is not a treatment for OCD, since the compulsions often complicate any attempts at resolution, and even if you gain a deeper understanding of your psyche, OCD can be incredibly resistant to magically disappearing.
  3. Thought Stopping. Snapping a rubber band everytime you have an unwanted thought, or imagining a giant stop sign will sensitize you to the thoughts even more. Mental compulsions, on the other hand, can be stopped(even if it seems impossible), which leads to the next point.
  4. Confusing obsessive thoughts with compulsive thoughts. Pure O isn't pure. I discovered with the help of my ERP therapist, that I have mental compulsions for trying to "undo" my intrusive obsessive thoughts, like freezing(and doing nothing until I solve the issue), retracing my thoughts or actions, analyzing, figuring out, avoiding all reminders of the thought, or researching.
  5. Disputing the thoughts ad infinitum. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) is the larger category that ERP belongs to, but CBT applied to mental obsessions without an understanding of the nature of intrusive thoughts, perfectionism and "just right" feeling can turn dysfunctional thought analysis into compulsions. I would get sidetracked into figuring out whether I'd done a thought record thoroughly enough, and even if I disputed all the errors in my thinking, it didn't seem to stick.
Related Post
Finding a good therapist for OCD in the US and Canada

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

1 Year of Exposing OCD!

Not that way

I began this blog, Exposing OCD, a year ago. I have learned immensely from the process of writing the posts, reading and responding to comments, and in discovering other bloggers who write about the experience of having OCD. I was initially inspired to start a blog when I came across The Beat OCD Blog: Overcoming OCD One Exposure at a Time. The author was blogging anonymously and about doing exposures, and it was like a door opened to the idea that I could write about my experiences as well. I had been writing articles for an OCD newsletter, but it came out only a few times a year, and I'd noticed writing had been helpful for gaining distance from my old patterns. I'd like to give a shout out to The Beat OCD Blogger(or Ann as she now calls herself), and her incredible persistence in doing exposures and reclaiming her life from exhausting OCD rituals and avoidance of the living she really wanted to do.

I wanted to write about my experience doing Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy(ERP), and as a motivator to actually do more exposures. Ironically I started the blog while at work, where my compulsing ate up many of my days, and avoidance was mixed into my other aims. Writing the blog was a distraction, but as readers found my blog, it helped focus my attention on the nature of OCD as a disorder, especially mental obsessions, intrusive thoughts, indecision, perfectionism and health anxiety. OCD is still a mystery to many people, and the most discouraging is how many therapists also find it a mystery, and either don't realize their client has OCD, or doesn't know about ERP. I hope that in some small way I am helping to describe OCD experiences such a way that others can recognize what they may have found impossible to articulate, and to offer hope that it's possible to get better, to be an inhabitant of your own life, rather than living a life of compulsions.

Writing each post was an exposure, since my perfectionism often had resulted in avoiding writing anything unless it was "perfect," along with fears of saying the wrong thing, or choosing the wrong topic or the incorrect photo. I have been honored by people's willingness to share their own experiences with me by leaving comments on the blog, and encouraged by the number of OCD blogs I've found over the course of the past year. My blog roll has grown, and although I wouldn't wish OCD on anyone, I am thankful for companions for the journey of courage in facing OCD.