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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Taking Steps To Treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

BOSTON- In the U.S., an estimated one in 50 adults suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  But 25 years ago, there were only a handful of doctors who specialized in OCD, an anxiety affliction in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts that compel them to perform certain rituals, such as repeated hand washing.

Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry Dr. Michael Jenike was one of those first doctors, and he pioneered treatments for the disorder. Since the 1970s, hundreds of doctors across the country have joined him and now work with OCD patients.

You get them to touch something they’re afraid of. You gradually work your way up, and their brains learn that they don’t have to be so fearful.”
– Harvard's Dr. Michael Jenike, on treating OCD

Jenike described an OCD patient named Ed Zine, who has since mostly recovered.

“Ed was pretty much 100 percent disabled for quite a few years when I first met him,” Jenike told WBUR’s Here & Now.

Jenike, who is also on the board of directors of the International OCD Foundation, said he recently had lunch with Zine’s family. “He’s doing great. He still has OCD symptoms,” he said. “But overall his life has dramatically improved.”

Speaking to WBUR’s Here & Now in 2009, Zine described the typical thoughts that passed through his head while trying to do something as simple as eat pasta.

If a strand of pasta touches face, lip or chin and does
not go into mouth, gently try to grab strand with thumb and index
finger of other hand, letting fingers touch only pasta and not each
other. If fingers touch each, reverse entire process and start over.
Make sure fingers do not touch face or lips. If they do, start
touching and counting rituals …

Zine is just one example of the many cases Jenike has treated.

“Some people fear contamination in the world, so they find someplace they feel is safe,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the bathroom ironically.”

Jenike called the rituals, like hand washing or Zine’s habit of counting in even numbers, “Valium for the thoughts.”

He said that though everybody has a few of these quirks, if you have a severe case of OCD there’s no mistaking it.

“You can’t function, you can’t go to work… you’re terrified all the time,” he said.

Jenike says it is possible to prevent OCD using behavioral therapy on those who may be genetically pre-disposed.

But for those who have already developed OCD, Jenike recommends Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which a doctor exposes a patient to his or her fears.

“You’ll make a list of the kinds of things that set off their OCD, the kinds of things they avoid.  And then you start somewhere low down on the list and you get them to touch something they’re afraid of. For instance if they’re afraid of hospitals you get them to touch a magazine with a picture of a hospital,” he said.

“And then they’ll get anxious and they stay in that anxious state and they’ll just come down.  And then when they can touch that and not get anxious… you actually have them walk by a hospital, and eventually go in a hospital,” Jenike said. “So you gradually work your way up, and their brains learn that they don’t have to be so fearful.”

But Jenike stresses that this approach must be gradual and done with a skilled practitioner.

Report compiled by WBUR’s Meena Ramayee and Jill Ryan.


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  • Nefert-tmu

    Regarding washing all the time, if one uses purell or another one of these alcoholic cleansers, they cause super bugs to develop that are not affected by the purell.  Also, regarding the idea behind washing as one being dirty, if we don’t allow ourselves to get dirty that puts us in danger of auto-immune diseases like lupus.  According to Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) medicine, lupus is a modern disease that comes from living in too sanitized an environment.  A person that has a strong immune system that has nothing to fight will start fighting itself.  For any cures for lupus just contact http://www.theearthcenter.com; their contact information is on the main page.

    Also, regarding cures for OCD, emotional freedom technique is a wonderful cure (www.eftuniverse.com).  Another cure is Chinese energetic medicine (yuenmethod.com).  I’ve personally used both of these methods for different conditions and can testify as to their efficacy.

    • Den4

      At least folks with OCD admit they have problems and usually try to get help to reduce their maddening symptoms…however, folks with OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder) are the complete opposite, where they believe they are fine, and it’s the other folks that are crazy. You cannot get them to admit their mistakes because they never make mistakes, or will blame others for their own faults. For some extreme folks, they tend to instigate problems by their intolerance to anything that goes against what they believe. They can be highly judgmental towards others, because they have a righteous attitude, and will not listen to others, because “only they” are right.

      While OCD is a problem, what can be done for folks that are afflicted by OCPD? Or variations of personality disorders that can make life hellish dealing with folks who are hard-wired into believing that they are never wrong? You cannot get them into any treatment, voluntarily, as they do not believe there is anything wrong with them in the first place…..

      • Nefert-tmu

        Both of these therapies can still be used.  Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can be done surrogately to help give the person some relief from that limiting perspective.  Yuen method can also be done at a distance.

  • Nicole

    Good Afternoon, I have suffered with OCD since I was 13 years old. I had been placed into a mental institute for a few weeks to learn how to cope with my horrible routines. The worst feeling was when my family did not know what was wrong with me. I looked as the ‘odd’ person. Its been years later, and I have been to multiple of doctors and tons of support from my family and fiancee. If I ever feel down and feel like my OCD is coming to attack me…just immediately think of something to keep me occupied! Fight the bad thoughts cause eventually they will disappear! :) Stay strong people, never give up!

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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