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Monday, December 16, 2013

How Not To Fix OCD

by Dr. Lindsay Kramer, psychotherapist and staff writer at The April Center For Anxiety Attack Management - Los Angeles

            As I was perusing the web, I came across an interesting article regarding the famous rapper Eminem and his struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder*.  The article (link available at bottom) depicted Eminem’s previous addiction to prescription drugs as a way of repressing compulsive habits and behaviors.  Now sober, Eminem admitted to realizing things about himself that significantly interfere with his personal and professional life.
            Now I have to commend Eminem for speaking out about such a private matter.  It takes strength to shed light on an issue that has been long overlooked.  It furthermore takes strength to reach out and seek help for OCD or other anxiety related-disorders.
            Let’s take a step back and attempt to understand Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Simply defined, OCD is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and recurring thoughts, feelings, ideas, or sensations (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety (compulsions).  Obsessions can be centered on concerns of contamination, losing control, perfectionism, harm, superstitions, and unwanted sexual thoughts.  Compulsive behaviors include washing and cleaning, checking things, repeating routine activities or body movements, counting, and collecting.  In Eminem’s case, he stated that he needed to run on the treadmill until he burned a certain number of calories, or that he would make continuous changes in his music trying to get it “just right.”   
            A person suffering from OCD generally recognizes that their thoughts or behaviors are irrational or excessive.  However, the anxiety is much too great to simply stop the obsessions or compulsions from occurring, thus continuing the influx of intrusive thoughts and actions.  This can be time-consuming and distressing, and interferes with normal life functioning.
            Eminem resorted to using prescription drugs as a way to avoid anxiety and OCD obsessions.  Others may use alcohol or marijuana to escape the anxiety that pervades daily life.  Some just seek to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist.  Compulsive behaviors like those previously mentioned (hand-washing or checking things) also serve as temporary escapes from the obsessive thoughts.  The problem with all of these methods is that they are not effective and they do not get rid of the anxiety.  Avoidance behaviors only maintain and even increase distress levels and fears.  This concept is very important, especially if you are seeking out help for OCD or other anxiety disorders.
            Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the only research proven psychotherapy treatment that is effective for anxiety treatment.  With CBT, trained anxiety doctors help you to identify triggers that lead to obsessive thoughts, tolerate anxiety, and resist the urge to act on compulsions.  Furthermore, anxiety doctors can help you develop healthy coping strategies for stress and fear. 
            If you or someone you know can relate to Eminem’s struggle with OCD, it is imperative to seek out treatment.  Using maladaptive coping techniques such as drugs or alcohol will only perpetuate the problem.  So borrowing from Eminem’s words off his album Recovery, “We’ll walk this world together through the storm…whatever weather, cold or warm…just lettin’ you know that you’re not alone.”

All the best,

from The April Center For Anxiety Attack Management - Los Angeles

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