New research from UCLA finds a new, fairly simple effective treatment for those with OCD: confronting their fears. Say, for instance, someone is compelled to wash their hands consistently throughout the day; facing their fear might involve resisting this compulsion after shaking someone’s hand or perhaps going out of their way to touch a dirty park bench. According to this study, “Multivariate resting-state functional connectivity predicts response to cognitive behavioral therapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder,” the purpose is for the individual to learn that it’s okay—nothing bad is going to happen.
Dr. Jamie Feusner, a clinical neuroscientist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, explains that this cognitive behavioral therapy technique is designed to slowly expose the individual to his or her fear and ultimately show them they are strong: “We want you to learn that you’re able to tolerate it. We first brainstorm situations that evoke anxiety, and rank them. We might say, ‘Let’s start with touching a wall in a public hallway.”
This research follows another significant study Feusner worked on that explored which people with OCD might (or might not) benefit from this form of treatment used in cognitive behavioral therapy—a technique called “exposure and response prevention.” This “exposure” refers to the individual’s confrontation with the anxiety-inducing behavior, which causes them distress. Over time and with increased exposure, their anxiety reduces in intensity and in some cases disappears.
Feusner stresses that the goal of this treatment is not to talk a patient out of their anxiety—but to instead expose themselves directly to the perceived threat and teach them that they can handle it. A typical session might look like this: the therapist or counselor would ask the patient to do something that makes them uncomfortable such as hold onto a “dirty” door handle until told otherwise. After a bit, the counselor will ask how he or she is feeling and continue to check in. After the allotted time is up, the patient often finds that he or she doesn’t feel so anxious anymore.
One might be surprised at how effective this treatment can be, considering OCD is characterized by seemingly uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors. But by this point, these individuals are often sick of struggling and determined to improve, Feusner says: “Most of the people I see have been suffering a decade or more. So people are motivated to do what it takes.”
Feusner hopes to use the artificial intelligence algorithm from her previous study—which predicted who with OCD might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy—to explore the potential success of other treatments as well. “It would be ideal to develop similar means of predicting if people will respond to medications or brain stimulation approaches, since these can also be effective,” she says.
UCLA (2018, March 22). Building Tolerance to Anxiety is Key to OCD Symptom Relief. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved March 22, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/anxiety-ocd-8688/
Reggente, N., Moody, T. D., Morfini, & et al. Multivariate resting-state functional connectivity predicts response to cognitive behavioral therapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder. PNAS. Retrieved March 23, 2018 from http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/02/06/1716686115.short