This post, originally written in October 2012, has been updated:
I often stress the importance of sharing our experiences and talking about obsessive-compulsive disorder in the hopes of raising awareness and understanding of this illness. But is it possible to talk about OCD too much? In certain contexts, I believe the answer is “yes.”
“Traditional Talk Therapy,” is a type of psychotherapy that delves into the root of your problems. Think Freud, lying on the couch, and discussing your earliest memories. At the very least, it involves examining why you feel or act the way you do.
Dan’s first therapist employed this technique, and over the four months that Dan saw him, his OCD got progressively worse. Why?
Because talking to someone with OCD about why they feel the intense fear and anxiety that is characteristic of the disorder is like talking to someone with asthma about why they can’t breathe. “So why do you think your airways constrict like that?” Ridiculous, right? The answer is obvious. “Because I have asthma and that’s what asthma is.”
OCD is an “Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorder” and that’s why those with OCD think and act as they do. OCD, like asthma, is not something that can be “talked away.” In fact, not only does Traditional Talk Therapy not help those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it often exacerbates the OCD. Talking about their fears repeatedly and subsequently being reassured by a therapist only empowers the OCD. Those with OCD ruminate enough on their own; they don’t need any assistance in that department.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything to talk about in therapy when it comes to OCD. There’s plenty, and many of the first-person blogs out there give us a glimpse of how complicated treating OCD can be. But the specifics of why you feel compelled to drive around the block fifty times to make sure you didn’t hit someone, or why you must review your entire day in your head to make sure you didn’t say anything wrong, are not significant. What’s important is realizing you are dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and then finding a competent therapist who utilizes exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the front line treatment for OCD.