Excessive hand washing, from fear of contamination, is one of the most common forms of OCD-Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is not something that is “cured” but symptoms can be significantly reduced through CBT-Cognitive Behavioural Therapy-a type of Psychotherapy.
CBT can be very challenging for those with OCD as therapists may expose them to experiences that directly confront their fears. For example, one effective treatment for a person whose fear is contamination may involve putting their hands directly onto a public floor. The idea behind this is to learn that you can tolerate things that you previously would have shied away from.
“Exposure and response prevention” is the technique used in CBT. Exposure refers to a specific exercise that intentionally evokes anxiety and other distressing emotions in a patient. This helps them learn how to endure and tolerate those feelings increasing them to be able to expose themselves to things like dirt and dust. Response prevention refers to reducing and eliminating behaviours such as repeated hand washing and turning lights on/off.
A typical session may be getting the patient to hold the door handle or a period and asking them to describe their feelings. The patient might say that they think the door handle looks clean or they know that after the session they can simply wash their hands. This is not the point of the exercise. The idea is for them to imagine the worst-case scenario-perhaps that lots of sick people have touched that door today or that it hasn’t been wiped down for a long time. Patients are asked this because they can experience feelings in a safe way and learn that they can manage them without fleeing the situation. After a couple of minutes have passed patients tend to realise they don’t feel so anxious anymore because nothing negative has happened.
By creating a tolerance to thought hazards you can remove their negative impact and create a calmer and happier place. Of course, this does not happen overnight or within a week, but over time with support and continued therapy those once persistent thoughts will become quieter and quieter before becoming a vague memory.
If you would like support with OCD contact us today to discuss how we can support you.