This post first appeared on my blog in October 2013….
There are so many different types of obsessions and compulsions when it comes to OCD. Perhaps one of the less talked about are sensorimotor, or body-focused, obsessions which involve a heightened awareness and focus on involuntary bodily activities and processes. Hyperawareness of swallowing, breathing, or blinking are common examples of these types of obsessions. Additionally, overattention to bladder and digestive processes, indeed any unhealthy focus on a specific body part or organ, might also fall into the category of sensorimotor obsessions.
To me, these types of obsessions seem particularly brutal because they involve necessary, ongoing processes in our bodies. There truly is no escape, and this fact often plays into the obsessions of the person with OCD. The fear of never being able to stop thinking or focusing on their swallowing, or beating heart, can cause intense anxiety in those with OCD. These people might be consumed with worry about swallowing, might actually be afraid of choking, or they might just be tormented by the thought that they will never be able to stop thinking about swallowing. Not surprisingly, compulsions that help distract the person with OCD follow. Counting, for example, might briefly help someone with OCD focus away from their swallowing. Avoidance behaviors such as avoiding certain foods might also be a compulsion in this case.
But as we know, performing compulsions never helps for long, and will make the OCD stronger in the long run. Those with OCD who suffer from sensorimotor obsessions often find their lives greatly affected. They have trouble concentrating on anything other than their obsession(s), and have trouble socializing and sleeping as well.
So what is the treatment for this particularly torturous type of OCD? The same as for all types of OCD: exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Those dealing with sensorimotor obsessions need to face their fears and voluntarily pay attention to whatever bodily activity they are agonizing over. They need to feel the anxiety that ensues, and it will eventually diminish. In other words, they need to do the opposite of what their OCD dictates.
Dr. Steven Seay has written a great three-part series discussing many aspects of and treatment for sensorimotor OCD. I highly recommend checking it out for more information. Sensorimotor OCD, like many other types of OCD, can be complicated, confusing, and debilitating. For those suffering from sensorimotor obsessions, it is crucial to work with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD. With the right treatment, those who suffer from this type of OCD will soon be able to breathe easy….literally.