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Obsessive Compulsive Behaviours


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Dr Kelly Baez – Licensed Counsellor and Psychology PhD

Obsessive-Compulsive behavior runs the gamut from quirky habits to the debilitating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  The behavior is usually triggered by unchecked anxiety and emerges as the predominant coping strategy to deal with that anxiety.

It does very little to focus on behaviour itself.  Thus telling a compulsive hand-washer to stop is not only ineffective, but it can even be harmful since it only serves to allow anxiety to reach even higher levels while compounding the person’s suffering with shame.  This, in turn, can actually cause the obsessive compulsive behaviour to intensify.  It can also cause the behavioural equivalent of cross-addiction where the person simply switches to a different obsessive compulsive behaviour.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour?

Obsessive compulsive behaviour is not a weakness or a choice.  It is a behaviour that is very effective in the short-term but can bring with it long-term consequences to health, relationships, and work.

Helping Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour

The approach to healing Obsessive Compulsive Behavior and OCD is two-fold:

  1. Reduce Anxiety

It is helpful to look for ways to reduce anxiety in order to reduce the intensity of coping behaviour needed.  Keep in mind, not all effective treatment comes in pill form.  Mindfulness training can help, along with a healthy diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts (assuming you aren’t allergic to them) has tremendous value.  Furthermore, studies have indicated that just 30-minutes of exercise a day has a powerful impact on reducing anxiety.

  1. Create and Practice a Healthier Coping Strategy

You can’t remove a poor coping strategy without replacing it with a healthier alternative.  It is the psychological equivalent of stripping someone of their immune system.  At best, it’s unhealthy.  At worst, it could be catastrophic.  While an outsider’s suggestions may be well-meant and can help start the dialogue, this is ultimately a deeply personal choice.  Coping strategies are like muscles.  They start out weak from lack of use and strengthen over time.  Remembering to use a coping strategy is a trial and error process that resembles muscle memory.  Mastering a new coping strategy takes time, persistence, and positive support.

If you or someone you love is debilitated with OCD, the most helpful response is to strengthen your relationship and give them a sense of security and belonging.  Give mindful respect to their feelings and experience.  No one wants to have OCD.  It’s not a choice.  There will be easier days and harder days.  The goal is to remain supportive as the struggle evolves into learning experiences which ultimately leads to success and improved mental health.

Dr Kelly BaezDr. Kelly Baez, is a Licensed Professional Counsellor with a PhD in Psychology. In her 10+ years in practice, she has been a trauma counsellor, crisis counselor, and addiction counsellor. Currently, she is the founder of FitShrink and serves as a weight loss consultant for people who have tried everything to lose weight but feel stuck.

Through her supportive, information-packed blog posts, on-demand classes, and 1-on-1 coaching, she’s here to show you how to implement a healthy lifestyle change — while making it feel insightful, empowering, and sassy.

And when she’s not FitShrink-ing, you can find her running with her dog, watching her husband play polo, and being an all-in mommy.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/fitshrink

Zoe Markopoulos -Psychologist (MAPS, CEDP)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. It is a distressing and debilitating condition, and without the appropriate treatment and support it is likely to be chronic and a suffer’s health may deteriorate as a result. People with OCD experience intense worries that something terrible may happen to themselves or others. Suffers have constant doubts about their behaviour, and frequently seek reassurance.

Two Parts of Obsessive Compulsion

There are two parts to OCD – obsession and compulsion. An obsession is an intrusive and unwanted thought, urge or image that comes back repeatedly and is difficult to stop thinking about, which can include:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Unwanted, forbidden or taboo thoughts involving religion or sex
  • Having things symmetrical or in a perfect order

A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour that a person feels the urge to do in response to an obsession, which can include:

  • Excessive cleaning or hand washing
  • Ordering and arranging things in a particular and precise way
  • Repeated actions (i.e. checking to see if the door is locked)

How Many People Suffer from OCD?

People with OCD may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions or both. These symptoms can interfere with all aspects of life, such as work, school and personal relationships. Approximately 14 percent of Australians are affected by an anxiety disorder in any 12-month period, with OCD being the fourth most common disorder. In regards to young people, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 6. Generally, people with anxiety disorders experience their first symptoms by the age of 11-years.

How to Help OCD Sufferers?

Given these alarming statistics, it is essential to improve and maintain mental well-being in order to help prevent mental health disorders. The capacity to stay mentally well should be ideally focused on resilience – our ability to cope with everyday life and face difficult situations without becoming unwell. Research suggests that practising gratitude, mindfulness and empathy can help develop and strengthen resilience. For example, expressing appreciation for what one has can increase happiness.

Activities for cultivating gratitude, mindfulness and empathy include:

  • Gratitude – write down three things that went well in a day or that you feel grateful for during the day.
  • Mindfulness – breathing – notice, accept and be aware of your breath with or without audio assistance or artwork. Artwork – filling exquisite scenes and intricate patterns with colour.
  • Empathy – perform a random act of kindness (planned or unplanned) for someone else.

Image - Z MarkopoulosIn her professional practice, Zoe Markopoulos applies her psychological and educational expertise in the effective delivery of psychology services to children and families. She recognises the importance of fostering resilience and addressing the social, emotional and educational needs of students. Zoe predominately aligns her work with the principles and techniques of cognitive behaviour therapy, positive psychology and mindfulness. A significant part of her work involves psychological counselling and assessment, developing and implementing evidence-based programs, and consultation. Zoe is also interested in self-care activities to help maintain physical, mental and emotional health.

Zoe has contributed to academic publications focused on coping, bullying, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, children and families. She is a member of the Australian Psychologist Society and is regularly involved with the College of Educational and Developmental Psychologists (Victoria), as a committee member. Zoe is currently completing the Psychology Board of Australia Registrar Program in Educational and Developmental Psychology.

Jaime Parnell – Clinical Psychologist

“1-flip of the switch, 2 -flips of the switch, 3-flips of the switch, 4-flips of the switch, 5-flips of the switch. I can leave the light off now.” Slowly I walk to bed, I rest and close my eyes, I try to drift off to sleep. My brain wakes, and screams, “Did you flip the switch 5-times or only 4?, I hope it was 5, you need to do 5.”……………. “You definitely should go and check….. NOW………..

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a particularly disabling condition. Interventions are focused on Cognitive Behavioural Strategies. The person may need to check the same things over-and-over, including counting or repeating the same word, phrase or action and this consequently impacts on their inability to break routines. Because of the inability to break these routines, it can impact quite severely on their work and social lives as time schedules are not adhered to, only the completion of the routine.

Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour

People with obsessive behaviours may avoid situations that can trigger their obsessive thoughts, and this, in turn, can create intense anxiety. OCD will stop people from attending events or make people perform badly on tests and exams as their mind become preoccupied with the routine and the completion of the routine.

Obsessive compulsive behaviours heavily impact on feelings including anxiety levels, but can also influence other feelings. For example, increased  embarrassment with the sufferer being unable to attend social events, and increased sadness and being upset due to being unable to decrease checking and routines.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Treatment

It is important to find support to help decrease the hold that obsessive-compulsive behaviours have on a person. With support from a therapist, people can learn to manage the obsessive and compulsive behaviours. To find help, contact your GP so that you can to access supports.

Jaime ParnellJaime Parnell has a Masters in Clinical Psychology and has a strong interest in working with anxiety and difficult behaviours in children, adolescents and young adults. Having previously worked with children who have suffered trauma; and with an extensive history in working with children and teenagers with difficult behaviours, Jaime provides assessment, individual and group counselling tailored to individual needs.

Located in the Central Queensland region, Jaime is particularly involved in working with clients who have complex presentations, and offers several outreach services, and skype consultations for the regional area. Jaime’s skills lie in providing a thorough assessment and being able to tailor interventions in a way that is solution focused. Jaime encourages using feedback informed services with clients to ensure that services are meeting clients’ needs. Jaime uses technology in her sessions and has recently released two apps — 30 days of gratitude, an app to appreciate the world around you, and Jacob the Frog, a guided breathing app for managing stress, worry and anxiety. Both, of which can be downloaded from the iTunes store.

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Debbie Hopper – Registered Occupational Therapist

Many children struggle with worrying or being anxious about friends at school, they may find school work hard, or it difficult to cope with peer pressures. But when does worrying or anxiety become more pronounced and become obsessive compulsive?  When should parents or teachers become concerned or seek help?

Noticing Obsessive Behaviours

My general advice with any developmental or behavioural issue is to look for signs that the worrying thoughts or anxiety is start to interfere with a child’s ability to be able to do what they need to do. You may also notice that their world (or your world as a parent) starts to close in and become smaller as your child becomes too worried and can no longer do things, such as go to school, go to the shops, or see their friends. If this occurs, then the quicker adults can get help for children, the better their recovery will be.

Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is comprised of both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts that are played over-and-over in a sufferer’s head, which is focused generally on a particular fear such as germs, a need for order, or fear of illness. Compulsions are actions and may include grooming rituals. For example, the need for repeated brushing of hair, showering or washing hands), repeating rituals – needing to rewrite or constantly erase writing, needing to walk in or out of doorways, checking rituals – repeatedly checking that the door is locked, that they have packed their needed books in their school bag.

Where to Get Treatment

Treatment for obsessive-compulsive behaviours should be sought from professionals as soon as concerns arise. This allows the child to receive help before obsessive and compulsive behaviours become reinforced. Treatment is usually given from a cognitive behavioural approach, where the child is supported in creating new positive thoughts about the issues they are struggling with. A sensory processing approach may also be helpful to assess if there are underlying difficulties with processing different senses, such as being over sensitive to touch or movement.

Always be supportive with your child, and never blame them for their behaviours. Positive and supportive adults, and family, are exactly what children need when overcoming obsessive compulsive behaviours. Don’t make a big deal of it at home, but be positive and have a can-do attitude.

DebbieDeb Hopper is an Occupational Therapist, Amazon No. 1 Best Selling Author, and a Special Needs TV reporter, as well as a workshop and keynote presenter.

Deb is passionate about empowering parents and educators to understand the underlying reasons of why children struggle with behaviour, self-esteem and sensory processing difficulties. A practicing Occupational Therapist she understands the daily struggles that children, parents and teachers face.

Deb is the author of the Amazon No. 1 Bestselling Book Reducing Meltdowns and Improving Concentration: The Just Right Kids Technique and co-author of the CD Sensory Songs for Tots.  Deb has presented at national and international conferences including the Asia Pacific Autism Conference and The National Occupational Therapy Mental Health Forum and is often called upon for media comment.

Deb is the special needs reporter for the online channel Toddlers to Teens TV and her goal is to help as many children, parents and teacher around the world.

Deb works from her Occupational Therapy Learning Difficulties Clinic in Forster, NSW. You can contact her for appointments, workshops and training on (02) 6555 9877 or therapy@lifeskills4kids.com.au.

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Disclaimer: The information published in this column is the author’s own professional and personal knowledge and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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