When Dan’s self-diagnosis of OCD was confirmed by his longtime pediatrician, the doctor suggested he see a therapist. So off he went to the most popular clinical psychologist in town, the one all the teens liked. Dan liked him too. He drove to his appointments alone, and while I spoke with the therapist on the phone a few times, we never met. Dan was sharing very little about his OCD with us at the time, but he did tell me and my husband that he was very pleased with his psychologist and thought he really understood him; he felt better after every session. What more could we ask for?
Eight months later our son was so debilitated by severe OCD he could not even eat. As I became more educated about the disorder and its proper treatment, I realized that not only had Dan’s therapist not known how to treat OCD, the “talk therapy” he used had exacerbated Dan’s illness.
His next therapist worked at the world-renowned OCD residential treatment program Dan attended. Our son spent nine weeks there and bonded big time with this psychologist, who definitely knew how to treat OCD. His stay at this program became complicated, one of the issues being Dan’s unhealthy dependency on his therapist. Our son became unable to think for himself, deferring instead to his psychologist’s recommendations as to how he should live his life, even when they conflicted with Dan’s lifelong dreams. When I tried to discuss the situation with Dan, he said, “It’s hard not to be attached to someone who has saved your life.”
I know bonding emotionally with health-care providers is not unusual, but I wonder if it might be more of an issue for those with OCD. We know OCD sufferers often deal with social scrupulosity, a type of hyper-responsibility. Those with social scrupulosity obsess over hurting others’ feelings, and often believe that giving their opinion, or being assertive in any way, will cause harm. Could this translate into excessive loyalty? How could you question your therapist, or even worse, leave him or her, if you think this way? How could you even think that this person, whom you probably really like and admire, might not be the best one to help you?
These are just two of many situations when I think it’s best to move on. While in the first example we were oblivious to this therapist’s shortcomings in treating OCD, I have no doubt if we’d suggested looking for another health care provider, Dan would have insisted on staying with his hometown one. In fact, when he first left for college fifteen hundred miles away, he opted for phone calls with this therapist instead of searching for a new one (another mistake). In the second scenario, we had to forcibly remove Dan from the residential program.
OCD is complicated. While it is easy to say, “Find a therapist who specializes in Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy,” you also want a health care provider who you trust and feel completely comfortable with. Of course this is true for all of us, not just OCD sufferers. And while it’s not easy, if the time comes when your therapist is no longer the right fit for you, it is okay, even necessary, that you search for another. Because, at least in my opinion, merely liking your therapist is not enough.