Can Virtual Compulsions Help those with OCD?

by praisaeng

A recent study concluded that those with obsessive-compulsive disorder might get relief from watching someone else perform compulsions as opposed to having to do them on their own. The study involved ten participants with contamination OCD who were shown various “disgusting scenarios,” and some were asked to touch these “contaminated” objects. Each participant experienced significant relief just by watching a researcher wash his or her hands– even those participants who had touched the object themselves. More  trials with more participants are already underway.

While this is certainly an interesting study, is watching “virtual compulsions” something that could actually be helpful to those with OCD? Isn’t it just replacing one compulsion with another one? The premise behind exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is that the response (compulsion) should be prevented – not substituted with a different compulsion (watching someone else perform a compulsion). If someone’s compulsion is hand washing, they should work toward not washing their hands, not watching others was theirs.

But what if someone’s hand washing compulsion has left them with red, raw, painful hands? Wouldn’t it be better to watch a video of someone washing their hands than continue to hurt yourself while washing your own hands? I’m thinking it can be seen as more of a stepping stone to response prevention than as a substitute compulsion. The person with OCD could go from severe hand washing to watching someone else washing their hands and then to no hand washing compulsion at all. Those with OCD would still work toward embracing the uncertainty of life by not performing compulsions at all – it would just be a more gradual approach. For those who have skin-picking or hair-pulling compulsions, or any other self-harm compulsions, I think the use of virtual compulsions could be really helpful.

I’m not a therapist, and these are just my own thoughts. If someone is considering using virtual compulsions, I think it is really important to do so under the supervision of an experienced OCD therapist. You don’t want to get stuck just substituting one compulsion for another – you want to always have the end goal of not performing any compulsion.

I’d be interested to hear what those with OCD think of this new finding, and if you feel it might be helpful for some people with the disorder?

This entry was posted in Mental Health, OCD and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Can Virtual Compulsions Help those with OCD?

  1. grannyK says:

    I would have never thought to do that! I can see where it might help in some ways, but I fear it might also hurt. I develop habits so easily. It is something I have to fight constantly. I fear if I were to watch something like this, it would quickly become something I HAVE to watch daily. I can only speak for myself, though.

    • Thanks for commenting grannyK. It’s interesting that a couple of my blogging friends with OCD are also not too thrilled with the idea. The bottom line is I don’t have OCD so it’s so important and helpful for me to hear from those who do. I hope others will share also!

  2. Geoffrey Hudson says:

    I have suffered OCD from a very early age growing up with OCD l was laughed at by my family when l checked light switches and turned water taps tight and other checking compulsions because they thought it was funny l have just celebrated my 70th birthday still under a physcitrist l also see my CPN every month and on medication after reading your article on virtual compulsions with interest l shall keep an open mind and see how it fairs in the future Thankyou for a very interesting article Best Regards Geoff Hudson

    • Hi Geoff, Thank you so much for sharing and I am so sorry you have suffered for so long. I’m wondering if you’ve ever tried ERP therapy, which is the evidence-based treatment for OCD? A good OCD therapist could be so helpful – I hope you’ll consider it!

      • GEOFF HUDSON says:

        Hi Janet(ocdtalk) Thankyou for your reply to my message not sure anybody has ever mentioned or talked to me about ERP could you enlighten me please Kind Regards Geoff Hudson

      • Hi Geoff, Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) used to treat OCD. When the person with OCD commits to ERP therapy and works with a competent therapist, the results can be incredible. Hundreds if not thousands of people have regained control of their lives over OCD by using this therapy. In a nutshell it involves facing your fears and refraining from ritualizing, but there is so much more to it than that. I have written a lot about ERP (it saved my son’s life and he has been doing great for almost ten years now) so if you type “ERP therapy” in the search box in the top right of this blog you will get lots of post options to read. I’ve also written some longer articles about ERP for Psych Central and you can check out the IOCDF website for more information also. Good Luck!

  3. Hmmmmm… interesting. Don’t know exactly what to make of it. Could be useful if the compulsions a person does are harmful (such as with over washing of the hands). I’ll be interested to learn what researchers think are potential applications of these findings. Thank got for sharing!

  4. Hello! I suffer from pretty severe OCD, what they call Pure O ( not sure about the accuracy of this delineation myself). I do not perform physical compulsions such as hand washing etc, however I practice ERP for what can be overwhelming relentless mind loops and have found this to be the one and only form of help, apart from medication, that has truly made an enormous difference. I personally believe in the strategy of weakening mental connections to compulsive relief, custom designed for the individual as soon as possible, rather than a weaning off them through a visual relief. Some one with more over physical compulsions (even O has behavioural changes in relation to obsessive thoughts, like avoidance or other limitations) may feel differently though. Nt two cents.

    • Thanks for sharing your insight, violetgoddess. Many people think ERP doesn’t work for Pure O, but it does, in fact, work for all forms of OCD. I like what you say about therapy being custom designed, as each person with OCD will have his or her unique needs. Thanks again for commenting!

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