Question & Dancer: August 2017

question-and-dancerI’m an artist not an expert, one who is learning to embrace questions more than answers.

These are some questions I got last month. Ask yours here.

Is it normal for you to feel as though you’re losing your attraction to the sex you’ve always desired bc of HOCD? I know I want to be with a man and only a man but focusing on checking and reassuring myself has started to make me lose my passion for the opposite sex:( will my attraction ever come back (I hope so)? And is it also normal to lose your sex drive bc of HOCD? 

Friend, you are describing HOCD. All this is typical for HOCD and can be treated with exposure therapy. The joy and passion that you so desperately want can be yours again if you work hard through ERP.

I’ve done ERP and reduced my HOCD symptoms drastically. Yet, I still have some worries about my sexuality. I’m no longer sure if this is normal lingering of OCD doubts or a real concern- my compulsions are less but i still do remunerate and  try to imagine my self in a same-sex relationship to cope. I don’t know if this inability to find clarity means that there a real concern as well as the OCD. 

Hi dear, it sounds like you are on the right track! I say keep up the hard work of doing exposure therapy– and don’t forget the “response prevention” part. That means keeping yourself (as best you can) from all the ruminating and checking. I am not a therapist, but I know that for my own ERP, I practiced approximately 40 minutes a day for 10 weeks before everything “clicked” for me.

Hi Jackie, I have hocd. Unfortunately there are no OCD specialists near me or anyone certified to do ERP training. The therapist I see now is only a trauma specialist but it was the best I could do. I know I can always do ERP on my own but I’m too scared and it feels too overwhelming. What should I do?

I can completely understand feeling scared and overwhelmed, my dear one. How would it feel if you were to just begin by exploring ERP, by learning about it but not actually doing it yet? I would recommending getting a book about ERP and reading it strictly for the sake of education. You will still be moving yourself forward, and perhaps it will take some of the fear and mystery out of ERP for you.

I recommend a few books to choose from here.

Hi, recently I’ve been seeing a lot of hocd related questions on your blog. Does it surprise you how many people suffer from hocd? Most people don’t even know what it is, or even believe it to be a real issue. 

You know, at first it surprised me, but after a couple years of hearing from primarily HOCD sufferers, I am no longer shocked. I suspect that people might end up on my blog because HOCD is not talked about as frequently elsewhere on the internet. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that if you google HOCD, my blog appears twice on the first page. This month I received 16 questions via my blog, and 15 were about HOCD. I promise you: it is very, very real.

my OCD is currently under control but i wonder how it is i’ll ever learn to live with this mind of mine? the endless doubt- never knowing whether something is just OCD or Real?

Hello dear one, wow, I can remember feeling that same way, and for SO LONG too. Life is no longer like that for me, and I trust that you can have the same experience. Part of it for me was having doubt lose its power over me (this was via ERP therapy), and part of it is starting to recognize which of my thoughts fit the “community standard” and which did not.

I talk a little about “community standard” here.

Jackie, I feel so lost and scared. I’m a female with hocd and there are sometimes when I get terrifying thoughts like, I should just try being with a female and not care because I might like it, and then I see a female I know in my head. My worries never end. Besides doing ERP, what other advice can you give me?

Well, of course ERP is always my #1 suggestion. Other things that might help can include medication like an SSRI. Many people with OCD have found relief via mindfulness, but that is not something I have explored much on my blog, since I always recommend ERP. If you are not ready for exposure therapy, consider at least taking the time to read a book about it. Education is a great weapon against OCD.

Jackie, the phrase “don’t knock it till you try it” is really scaring me because I have hocd and this is making me feel like I should try a same sex relationship!!
😦

I know what it’s like to have a phrase seemingly take the rug out from under my feet. But try not to assign so much meaning to a phrase. There are certain things that phrase makes sense with– like trying new vegetables or taking an art class. There are plenty of things it doesn’t make sense with– like trying cocaine or quitting your job to start a crocodile petting zoo. It’s just hard for someone with OCD to sort through it all. The best suggestion I have is exposure therapy. Lots of details here.

Hi Jackie, I have had hocd for a while now. I was texting a friend from church (we are both females) and suddenly I got a thought that, I keep checking my phone because I want her to text me back. I like the attention she’s giving me etc. it’s got me all worried now that maybe I’m crushing on her? Or this is attraction?

Hi dear, this is so similar to many stories I have heard about how HOCD suddenly flared up for them … thinking a friend looked pretty that day, wanting to hear from someone, etc. We assign too much meaning to it. Theoretically, I’m sure you know that most people love attention from their friends, love to hear from them, especially if the conversation is an exciting one. But most do not suddenly worry that means they like that friend romantically. That is where someone with OCD shows how differently their brain is wired. You can rewire it through ERP.

Okay I am 100% sure I’m straight but this is where it gets weird. For some reason nothing was turning me on so instantly my mind thought I was gay. Dumb, right? I thought it’d eventually go away but it got worse. When I’m not thinking about it I can watch normal videos fine but when I watch a video of a male and it pops up I think I’m about to get turned on but mind you, I’m completely soft.

I know this can feel so scary, as if you’ve lost all attraction, but that is commonly reported by people with HOCD. The only question you (technically) asked is, “Dumb, right?” To which I would say, “No. Not dumb. Just HOCD.”

Hi Jackie, I have hocd and it’s terrible. Every time I hear or watch something that just has a normal positive message of, “be your true self, never hide who you are and love yourself ” I automatically think that I’m gay and should come out and not be afraid. Is this just my OCD?

It sure sounds like it. Many people with OCD twist well-intentioned words, giving them too much meaning. The best thing that you can do for yourself is pursue exposure therapy. Read more at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I’m a female with hocd. Why does it FEEL like I’m gay when I know I don’t want to be with girls, when I know I don’t want to be in a relationship with them? Often times my brain feels like it tries to convince me to even like a pretty girl I know! Please help I’m so confused 

It feels that way because of OCD. In non-OCD minds, there is a gate that opens and closes easily– thoughts can come and go as they please, and with fairly little stress. But in an OCD mind, a thought enters and the gate locks shut, which means that that thought just goes around and around and around and around. It is hard to find relief. With exposure therapy (ERP), that gate begins working properly again.

I’m worried. I have hocd and sometimes when I do get my attraction to guys back I’m a female btw, I now worry I’m bi??? Because I’m still thinking about girls and being afraid to look at pretty ones and worrying if I might like one. So I’m all confused that now I’m bi since I’m thinking about both??

I know that this probably sounds like the opposite of what you want, but the truest relief and freedom comes from not having to be certain about these things. I detail the benefits of that here. Please, please read it. I think it might help to make ERP make more sense.

Jackie I have hocd and I’m scared because I keep getting groinal responses every time I look at girls. It feels so automatic like I can always expect for it to come and I’m so aware of it. I have read that a lot of other people experience this too but I’m still pretty worried. 

It feels like your body is betraying you, doesn’t it? You’re right– that’s a very common experience for those with ERP. Start by not assigning it too much meaning, and please read these interviews with Hannah, who formerly struggled with HOCD. I think they will help.

Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Another Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Third Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Fourth Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Q&A with Former HOCD Sufferer

Hi I’m 15 years old, I’ve never thought I was gay/bisexual before. Always like boys (I’m a girl by the way). Never had a girl crush. But now everytime I see a girl I think Could I kiss her, have sex with her or could i see a future ( like dating or marriage) with her? Whenever I think about it I frown and get upset. I have OCD/Anxiety disorder, which I was diagnosed with.

Hi dear, a very common experience amongst those with HOCD. I recommend ERP. This might help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones.

Hi I’m 14 and I found out I have OCD I’ve told my parents and I had a really bad panic attack bc of thinking I will hurt my family then months go by and my sister called me a lesbian to impress her crush. Then I have theses thoughts of being bisexual but I’m not bc I like guys and not girls I freak out bc if I see a girl who is pretty my thoughts are all like your bisexual and I know I’m not 

Hello friend, I’m so sorry that your sister did that. I’m guessing she didn’t know what kind of agony it would cause for you. Please read this post and consider sharing it with your family if you think it might help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones.

Is it part if HOCD to experience an errection while watching gay porn? Like first there is an extreme tension in the chest followed by an errection. 

Yes, this can definitely happen! Exposure therapy is the answer!

Jackie, I have hocd and I’m worried about the whole “sexuality is fluid” thing. I know it’s different for everyone, but the it’s scaring me that I often see for example, celebs who have been with the opposite sex, just start relationships with the same ones and say they like it? So now I’m wondering, well what if I do the same, and I end up liking it too?? 

Hi friend, I hope this post will help.

Hey. So I know that many of us look up to celebs and think they’re very pretty or love their movies and songs etc. I have hocd, but I’ve always really liked Jennifer Lawrence. I was watching an interview of hers and suddenly it made me feel like I am gay for her and wouldn’t mind being in a same sex relationship with someone like her. Now I’m very confused/worried. Help??

Is it causing you anxiety? If so, it may very well be HOCD. Check out these posts about it and see if you can relate!

HOCD
A Closer Look at HOCD
Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Big Ol’ HOCD Post
Another Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Third Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Fourth Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Q&A with Former HOCD Sufferer
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part One
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part Two

Hi Jackie, I’m a teen with hocd. Recently I decided I’m not gonna be scared of the thoughts and to stop avoiding stuff that triggers my anxiety. However, as I was doing exposure today by watching a coming out video which explained how the girl didn’t enjoy sleeping with men, I suddenly got worried wondering. well what if I’m the same? I’ve never had a bf. How do I know I’ll even like it??? 

I know that people with HOCD can see or hear one thing and then– BAM!– their minds are off to the races, so to speak. You are doing the right thing by not avoiding stuff that triggers your anxiety; next, you need to stop doing things that alleviate that anxiety (the compulsions, whether that means seeking reassurance, checking your body for reactions, etc.). This is how exposure therapy works. Read more at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I consider myself a straight man suffering from HOCD. i am completely cured, but when I think of having romantic attraction to same sex, i feel grossed out but at the same time I feel a sensation in my groinal area. It has occurred atleast 3 times now. I have not experienced anything similar for girls being a boy. So, is this a sign of being gay or is this just a groinal response?

Does it cause intense anxiety for you? That sounds like HOCD. You say you’re completely cured, but OCD is not cured typically (though I have heard of a couple miraculous recoveries). Usually it is just managed and maintained.

Hi! 4 years ago my obsession about my sexual orientation started. A couple of months ago I heard about HOCD & felt completely identified. I was wondering whether is possible to have this disorder without being previously diagnosed with OCD. I’ve been through my past trying to find OCD signs & some things made me think that they were ocd’s behaviors. I also went through anorexia. What do u think?

Remission
Healed Not Cured: Remission & Relapse
OCD in Remission
Life after Treatment
When to expect a relapse
Am I Bitter?
Lies I Sometimes Still Believe
Managing OCD-in-Remission

Im a female with hocd but I’m not trying to ask for reassurance, but more so recognize the way OCD likes to behave. Whenever I read a book or watch a video in the perspective a guy, and he’ll be talking about a girl, just ordinary stuff, it makes me feel as though I’m in his situation and I can see myself with the girl, and it makes me anxious. Is this my hocd? 

Sounds like it, yes. I’m a young adult author, and right now, half of the book I’m writing is from the male perspective. It can definitely be interesting to write about “oh she’s so gorgeous,” etc. 🙂 If the anxiety becomes intense, please don’t hesitate to pursue exposure therapy, which you can learn about at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Do you know many people who did self-oriented ERP and succeeded? Thank you very much Jackie :D.

The best example I know is Shannon Shy, who is now president of the board of directors for the International OCD Foundation. Follow him here. He is endlessly encouraging.

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything (but especially faith, creativity, and mental illness), add yours here.

As I said, I’m an artist not an expert. I will leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems, “Questions about Angels.” Click here to hear Billy Collins himself read it. (P.S. It starts with questions, ends with a dancer.

Question & Dancer: This & That

question-and-dancerI’m an artist not an expert, one who is learning to embrace questions more than answers.

These are some questions I got last month. Ask yours here.

I have hocd, and I’m a 17 year old girl. I was wondering, is it weird if I still get crushes on guys during this? sometimes I doubt if I even do like them and the feelings feel fake and forced. Other times, no. Since my hocd started I haven’t been able to really like a guy. If I do, my crush goes away quickly. This makes me worried and makes me think that I can never truly like a guy ever again. 

Dear one, not weird at all. HOCD will do whatever it can to confuse you. Please be sure to read about HOCD and ERP at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Hi Jackie! My question concerns telling my significant other about my HOCD. I have already told him a bit about my same sex attraction fears (around 1.5 yrs ago) but at the time, I didn’t realize it was HOCD. Now that I know HOCD is the culprit I am wondering if you have any advice as to how to explain… I am afraid he won’t believe its HOCD and indefinitely doubt my affection for him. 

This is definitely up to you. I think this is the one of the hugest fears for someone with OCD. I did write a letter you can give to your SO to try to explain things better. It’s available here: https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones.

I just want to say, a massive thank you. I´ve been on hell for the past six months, or maybe more. i even thought about killing myself. and i trully did search for so many blogs, but they are mostly about guys so i didnt feel like i found answers. But this is the first site that is from a girl. Made me feel like there is hope. I hope eventually i get to tell you how truly straight i feel i am.

Thank you for your sweet message. I promise you there is hope, and I look forward to hearing from you after you’ve undergone treatment. In the future, if you are feeling suicidal, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with them here.

I feel like I have accidently made vows to give up things that i enjoy and i didnt want to give them up. I have OCD, but would the vows be binding? For example: “if i step on a crack, i have to stop doing this activity” but sometimes i feel like i mentally agree to it for a split second after the thought comes in my head. Like its 90% intrusive, but 10% my intentional.

I experienced this intrusive vow-making too, back when I was in high school, and it was a dark, dark time of my life. I don’t think that you are bound to these because it is OCD making the vow, not you. In any case, it is better not to focus on “solving” the vow-making but on treating OCD with exposure therapy. Best wishes!

Another vow question. I just feel so stressed because I really feel like I have to give up my two favorite activities according to the vows. After that I am left with no form of enjoyment. Even when I try ERP,  i feel like i am sinning by breaking promises to God and I dont even enjoy doing the activities anymore because of the anxiety.I feel like there is no hope. What do I do?

I also worried that my ERP might be sinful. I hope this post will help you: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/08/03/ocd-scrupulosity-is-erp-sinful.

Hi Jackie, I have hocd. What worries me a lot is that I don’t have any attraction to guys (I’m a female). I want to like someone but I feel empty and don’t feel any attraction even though they might be perfect for me. What do you think?

Hello lovely, this is perfectly normal for someone with HOCD, and you can defeat it with exposure (ERP) therapy, which you can read about at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD. There are resources there too in case you can’t afford therapy but would like to do it on your own.

Jackie, I’m a female with hocd. I know it is common for people to lose attraction to the opposite sex during this, but will I ever like another guy again?? It honestly feels like I won’t. 

Oh dear one, yes, I truly believe that you will. ERP therapy can help. You are not alone by any means, and I hope that as you read through the questions in this post, you will see that.

Hello! I believe that I have been suffering from HOCD for the past 8 years (this started when I was only 12, unfortunately). I’ve never been diagnosed or treated. However, my question is: is it normal/common for OCD compulsions to change over time?? 

Yes indeed! As obsessions and compulsions shift, we call this “theme hopping,” and you can read about it here: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/01/19/theme-hopping.

I’ve been told I have HOCD. I have worried about this  on and off. My first time I was 12 & I remember crying to my parents & I think I said something along the lines “I’m staying straight & then I don’t have to be made fun of” now that scares me because that means I’m afraid of society & that’s what gay people go through. Now I feel like I want to be straight just for society reasons. Please help

It is very common for people with OCD to think back on old memories (even ones that have never bothered them before) and suddenly become fixated on them. Sounds like your experience is very consistent with OCD/HOCD. Have you explored ERP therapy? You can read about it at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD!

Hi, I’m a 16 year old girl who has been suffering with HOCD for roughly 8 months now. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to overcome this is through therapy, but I’m scared to ask for help and recieve it. How do I ask my parents? I feel like if I sit them down to ask them for help, they will assume that I’m coming out or they’ll try to get too much information out of me. Help!

I hope that this will help, my dear: https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones.

How can I begin ERP for my HOCD by myself?

Hi friend, you can read about self-directed ERP therapy here: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/10/05/self-directed-erp-therapy.

Should I open up to family & my boyfriend about my HOCD? It terrifies me to think about telling them about it. Can I deal with it alone?

You can choose to do whatever makes YOU feel most comfortable. Please don’t overthink this (I know that’s a silly think to say to someone with OCD, but I want to give you permission to do what you choose). The links in the answers to the two questions just above yours will be useful (I hope!) in choosing whether it is a better option for you to tell your family and boyfriend or whether to go after ERP therapy alone. Best wishes.

Jackie, I’m scared. I had a dream last night in which I married a female I know. (I’m a female with hocd). It was very detailed, including me being with her in bed. This is the second time this female has appeared in my dreams, I have no idea why. I was unhappy in my dream but I’m lost and terrified that this is a prediction to my future???

I know why: because you have HOCD and have been obsessing about this. It makes sense that it would carry over into your dreams. In this interview with a former HOCD sufferer, she talks about having the same experience: https://jackieleasommers.com/2013/10/20/interview-with-a-former-hocd-sufferer. It is not a prediction of your future, dear. It is natural for our waking concerns to sometimes leak into our dreams.

Can HOCD turn into straight OCD, i´ve spent many times on internet which made it worse. and since truly gay ppl have straight ocd, its now like i kinda have that. To be honest i am about to take sleep pills. Hope there is light

There is light. I promise. Firstly, if you are feeling suicidal, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with them here. OCD can twist and morph through the weeks and years, so that is not unusual. It will do what it can to make you miserable until you learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. The best method for doing so is the evidence-based approach of ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy, which you can learn about at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Where’s the best place to get diagnosed in the Twin Cities? I’m positive I have HOCD but I’ve never been diagnosed with any form of OCD and I’m worried I’m in denial.

Hi friend, here are a couple resources for you:
https://jackieleasommers.com/twin-cities-ocd
https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/07/24/qa-with-an-erp-therapist

If I’m struggling with hocd, do you think I should stay away from psych forums? I’m already getting help for therapy and medicine though. But do you think it’s my way of just reassuring myself? 

Yes, I really do think it is unhealthy for you to be on the psych forums. Part of your ERP should be avoiding compulsions, and I think this way of seeking reassurance is one. I’m so excited for you that you’re doing therapy and meds though! Are you doing ERP and not talk therapy, I hope?

Please read the following: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/11/16/talk-therapy-vs-erp-therapy.

I have Hocd been going for 4 months.i always got aroused from girl and lez porn,but I did not wanted to do anything with girls.I once thought about kissing a girl and these things are fuelling my hocd.Yesterday I was horny.I decided to watch lesbian porn to check and I got really aroused i tried to think about having sex with a girl and I felt real arousal like i feel with men.Is my hocd or Im bi?

Does it feel intrusive and unwanted? This is part of how we define OCD.

What do you think of group therapy like DBT for OCD? Specifically hocd

I’ll admit that I’m not very familiar with DBT, though I have heard great things about it, especially in regard to treating things like borderline personality disorder. The evidence-based #1 treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Have you read, “All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr? “Everything Everything” by Nicola yoon? And “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand? Those are very good reads. Also, what’s your most favorite book of all time? 

I have read the first two, and I own the third book, but I haven’t had a moment to read it yet! My most favorite book of all time? Man, that’s difficult! I am going to go with Saving Francesca and its companion The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. But everything Marchetta writes is magical. I also love The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. (Sorry, it’s just so hard for me to only say one!!)

https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/08/04/read-these-10-novels-and-we-can-be-friends

Jackie I’m scared. I find myself constantly fearful because of my OCD. I have hocd, and I’m always terrified of the “what if..” although I have never questioned my sexuality, I feel as though nothing helps convince me I’m not gay. Some days I’m just depressed. My mind also wanders a lot. I’m not ready for ERP, but what should I do?

If you are not ready for ERP, the next best thing you can do is start to learn more about OCD and ERP. Education matters. It’s an incredible way to fight back. Track down some books and learn. You begin to steal back power this way.

I’m a female junior in high school, and I sometimes feel hopeless if I will ever get a guy. Every where I look people are in relationships. I’ve never had a boyfriend or even a first kiss. I know god always has a plan, but how can I trust him and know I won’t be alone forever?

Hi honey. I’m 35 and single. I completely get it, I promise. In fact, just this last week, I found myself asking my friends this same question, “will I be alone forever?” I guess that is where trust comes into play. We just don’t know, do we? BUT I do believe that when we love and honor God and follow him, he is the one who gives us our desires– in two ways. He gives us the actual desire– and then fulfills it too. I am being inarticulate. Let me try again. I think that God has given me the desire to be in love. I trust that he will also fulfill that God-given desire with a partner.

Is it normal for HOCD to play a part into ur relationship and make u question ur feelings for a person when u know in ur heart that you love/are attracted to them? Where when ur having guilt&questioning yourself about ur sexuality bc of HOCD u feel like maybe ur not in love w ur s/o or that ur not attracted to them when you know you are but ur intrusive thoughts try to make u think otherwise. 

HOCD and ROCD both cause havoc in relationships, yes. The best thing you can do is to treat the OCD itself with exposure therapy. You can do this, if not for yourself then for your relationship.

I have had HOCD it’s only getting worse. im starting to feel like I’m not in control of my mind. Sometimes Ill convince myself I want to be w a girl when really I just think they’re pretty! I feel like I have to accept being gay to get rid of these awful thoughts&everytime I try to I get so mad bc I know that isn’t me. I’ve always wanted to be with a man, never a woman. I’m scared of my own mind. 

Oh dear one, you are not alone. I promise there is help and hope and light. In exposure therapy (ERP), your brain gets rewired in a healthy way, a way that allows room for uncertainty. That might sound terrible, but it is one of the greatest gifts ever: to be able to let thoughts come and go without having to be sure about everything. It’s a new life. It’s freedom. Please read more at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything (but especially faith, creativity, and mental illness), add yours here.

As I said, I’m an artist not an expert. I will leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems, “Questions about Angels.” Click here to hear Billy Collins himself read it. (P.S. It starts with questions, ends with a dancer.

Q&A with an ERP Therapist

Erin VenkerMeet Erin Venker. I know her through the leadership team for OCD Twin Cities. Erin is lovely, thoughtful, and smart– and she has a unique experience of having OCD and being an ERP therapist. I’m so pleased to be interviewing her on my blog today!

Tell us a little about your background in regard to OCD, Erin.

I first had symptoms in 5th grade but I wasn’t officially diagnosed until 7th grade. At that time, my OCD was mostly rituals of “breathing in” and “swallowing on” the letter A so I would get A’s in my classes. I also did a lot of magical thinking, for example, having lucky and unlucky colors. It soon evolved to include repetitive praying and confessing to mom thoughts, worries, and “bad” things I did, or else I believed something bad would happen. I frequently had horrible intrusive thoughts, both sexual and violent. That period of my life is fuzzy; I just remember it was extremely painful. Daily life was exhausting. I thought I was a horrible person and in constant fear that something bad was going to happen to my family.  I was too embarrassed to talk about my intrusive thoughts, so I didn’t realize that was a part of my OCD until years later.

In college and post-college, my OCD evolved into primarily mental symptoms with rumination, trying to“figuring things out” by replaying scenarios over and over in my head, a constant fear of offending people, and reassurance seeking.

What led you to become a therapist? What are your educational credentials?

I didn’t receive the proper treatment for OCD until 14 years after I was diagnosed. It was at the OCD conference in Boston where I learned that exposure and response prevention therapy was the evidence based approach to successfully treat OCD. I also learned there how common taboo intrusive thoughts were, and that was a huge relief. I decided to become a therapist to help raise OCD awareness and expand the availability of treatment.

I received my master’s in counseling psychology at the University of Saint Thomas and have attended several workshops on exposure therapy. I currently work under the supervision of Dr. Vernon Devine who has 46 years experience treating individuals with anxiety disorders while I work toward my license as a professional clinical counselor.

What services do you offer, and what is payment like?

I specialize in OCD, agoraphobia, hoarding, body dysmorphic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, basically all forms anxiety. I use exposure and response prevention therapy and integrate mindfulness and some dialectical behavioral therapy techniques.

Due to the rising costs of health care, insurance benefits have increasingly become more complex. Self pay ensures that the client’s records and diagnoses are entirely confidential documents as I will not have to submit them to insurance or a third party payer. The content of the sessions stays between myself, the client, and Dr. Devine.

Treatment often involves appointments that need to be longer than an hour, multiple sessions a week, at-home sessions, and public exposures. Self pay allows for treatment freedom as well as the time to get to the root of the problems the client is facing. It makes treatment much more effective. Typically treatment lasts no longer than three months before going to an as-needed appointment basis.

What are the benefits of exposure therapy? How does it work?

Exposure therapy works by essentially helping you confront what you fear the most. For example with contamination OCD, I’ll have clients work on touching and interacting with whatever they believe to be contaminated. If a client has a mental obsession fearing that they are attracted to a family member, we will make a script that they are in fact attracted to that family member. Basically whatever they avoid to protect themselves from their fears, we work up to doing that by creating a hierarchy. We start with whatever trigger the client finds the least distressing and expose them to that trigger until their anxiety decreases. We then gradually move up the hierarchy until the client is ready to confront the most difficult exposures.

Can you briefly describe how you guide a patient through ERP, especially what the first couple sessions might look like?

In the first session, I get to know the client, gather some background information, and go over an assessment I have them fill out before the appointment. We go over details about their presenting symptoms and explore their triggers.  We then begin to build a hierarchy of ways to expose the client to the thoughts, images, objects, and situations that they find distressing and provoke obsessions/compulsions. ERP is no walk in the park, but it is an evidence-based approach that has shown to be incredibly effective.

Many of my blog readers are very concerned about being judged by a therapist who doesn’t truly understand OCD. What advice would you give to them?

Know that whatever intrusive thoughts or rituals you have, no matter how embarrassing, weird, or perverted you believe they are, I guarantee they are extremely common in OCD, and thousands of individuals have similar if not the same thoughts and compulsions. Everyone has intrusive thoughts– people with OCD just get them stuck in their head and distressed. Whatever you find most upsetting, OCD will latch onto it and continuously project it in your head like a song stuck on repeat.

Find a therapist who truly understands OCD. It breaks my heart when I hear about individuals who saw a therapist, tell them about sexual or violent intrusive thoughts they are experiencing, and the therapist does not recognize these symptoms as OCD. This can create further isolation, shame, and hinder the therapeutic process.

Erin Venker 2One last question: reassurance is often a compulsion for OCD sufferers. How can a therapist practice compassion without reassurance? What is your approach to this?

I use a lot of humor in treatment. I try to help clients notice when there OCD is sneaking up on them. Depending on the context and the individual, I will push the exact opposite of the reassurance they are seeking.

I have a rule of thumb that in the appropriate moment, I will only reassure once. I know you are not a pedophile, this is the one and only time I reassure you. After that, it’s all about accepting uncertainty. Well, maybe that thought does mean you want to kill someone, let’s make a script of it happening. At the same time, I validate the client that ERP is extremely difficult, and what they are doing is brave and hard work.

Thank you so much to Erin Venker for a great interview! If you are in the Twin Cities and think you could benefit from working with Erin, click here for her contact information. 

nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

If you’ve spent time around this blog, you know that I wrestled my life and freedom back from the clutches of obsessive-compulsive disorder in 2008. (Read more about my story at jackieleasommers.com/OCD).

From the onset of my symptoms to my diagnosis: 15 years.
From my diagnosis to appropriate treatment (ERP): 5 years.
From treatment to freedom: 12 weeks. (<–Read that again please.)

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is powerful, friends.

On average, it takes OCD sufferers 14-17 years to get the correct diagnosis and treatment. This is not okay. 

So many OCD sufferers cannot afford treatment. In some countries, ERP therapy is simply not available. In fact, in some countries, the stigma associated with having a brain disorder like OCD is so strong that sufferers would not dare admit to needing help. This is not okay. 

The creators of the nOCD app felt the same way. One contacted me and said, “Our goal is to reduce the time it takes for people with OCD to get effective treatment (from decades to minutes).” He said, “One thing advocacy has shown me is the need for OCD treatment in other countries! There are people in Bangladesh, India, etc that have literally nobody! My team is actually building a 24/7 support community within nOCD to combat this issue.”

The app is FREE and, I-hope-I-hope-I-hope, going to change the world.

Some of the very best things about this app:

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Right now it’s available for iPhones, but this fall, the Android version will come out. Please check it out here. And be sure to tell me what you think!

xoxo Jackie

A Reunion with My ERP Therapist

For OCD Awareness Week, OCD Twin Cities had an event– a panel of OCD experts plus one special guest: yours truly. Interestingly, one of the experts on the panel was my own ERP therapist and personal hero, Dr. Chris Donahue. I have not seen him since the last day I graced his office with my presence on the day I finished ERP therapy back in 2008, though we have communicated via email, and I have sent many, many people his way for help.

I only joined the panel for the last fifteen minutes or so. For the majority of it, I was in the audience. There was this weird dichotomy going on for me: on the one hand, I was listening to this man who saved my life, who changed everything for me, who pulled me out of darkness and into light, out of slavery and into freedom; on the other hand, his voice is the voice of my exposures (I did imaginal therapy, listening to an audio recording … and it was in his voice), which were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever, ever had to do in my life. So there was this push-pull thing going on while he spoke.

Then, later, I joined him. I was able to sit next to my hero and publicly tell an audience, “This is what this man did for me. This is what life was like before, and this is what life is like now, and they are unrecognizable.” I turned to him and said, “Thank you.” He said, “You’re welcome.” It was a simple exchange … but so layered. So many things going on in my head and heart.

In any case, I am grateful. With every year that goes by of freedom, I more and more shed my identity as someone in bondage. ERP therapy saves lives. For some of us, it changes everything. It did for me.

For lots more information about OCD and ERP, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

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