Earlier this month I attended the Second Annual Seacoast Anxiety Symposium, “the only educational event in the area focusing on the treatment of OCD and anxiety disorders.” Sponsored by Mountain Valley Treatment Center, the symposium brought together an array of OCD and anxiety experts from all over New England. Most of those experts were highly-trained clinicians and doctors. One of them, however, was an expert of a different variety. You see, Kate Brett knows about OCD because she lives with it.
Kate shared her story of coming to realize her symptoms fell under the umbrella of “extremely severe” OCD (prior to treatment she scored a staggering 38 out of 40 on the Y-BOCS OCD inventory). Upon receiving ERP treatment via a clinical study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety, her Y-BOCS score plummeted to an 8, an almost sub-clinical level of OCD, or “very mild symptoms.”
One part of Kate’s story was especially striking — she described meeting with a well-intentioned therapist who wanted to help, but who lacked the accurate therapeutic tools (namely, ERP and ACT) to successfully treat Kate’s OCD. This is a narrative I hear far too often in my own practice — clients relay stories of caring, well-meaning therapists who attempted to treat their OCD with talk therapy, relaxation techniques, breathing excercises, or logic. It only made their symptoms worse.
The next part of Kate’s story was even more harrowing: upon meeting with a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation, Kate was told that her harm OCD thoughts indicated she was a danger to those around her and, being a mandated reporter, the doctor then called Kate’s boyfriend to alert him that Kate presented a risk to his safety. Essentially, the doctor confirmed Kate’s worst fear: that she was a monster capable of hurting those around her.
While horrifying, Kate’s story is hardly an anomaly. I have met with parents who had CPS called on them because of intrusive post-partum OCD images about harming their babies, and young men reported to the police for their pedophilia OCD thoughts. Of course, clinicians in the field of OCD know that “a thought is a just a thought” and that having a thought has about as much relevance to intention and behavior as “I’m a bottle of Windex” means that I am, in fact, a cleaning product. Humans have bizarre and meaningless thoughts all day long. Thoughts do not necessarily have any influence on one’s behavior.
Fortunately, for Kate, her boyfriend dismissed the doctor’s call for alarm and she later received accurate treatment which now allows her to live in a kind of resolved truce with her OCD. Kate understands that she has a chronic condition which will likely last her lifetime. She also understands what to do about it. Now, Kate has a passion for helping others struggling with OCD better understand their symptoms and find qualified help. She spoke of the first moment she saw a light in the dark: she was googling anything she could think of to find out why she was “losing her mind” and happened upon an article talking about “intrusive thoughts.” Kate recognized herself in the description of OCD. It was her first glimmer of hope in a time of much despair.
So, I asked Kate: “If you could design a blog post that would have helped you back then, what would it have been about?” Kate suggested a post about the many ways OCD can present — how it is not just about neatness and germaphobia.
I can’t go back in time and give this blog post to a younger version of Kate (oh, how I wish I could!). But, together, Kate and I can reach others and prevent the traumatization that happens all too often in the medical and psychiatric communities when people with OCD reach out for help.
Read Part II of this blog post here: Do I Have OCD?