Psychology Melbourne Blog

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Rising above OCD

Edited by Jill Wright,

David Adam has a PhD in chemical engineering and works as a science writer and editor for Nature, but as he explains in a poignant confession in his former newspaper, The Guardian, he spent years tormented by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The article is an excerpt from Adam's book, The Man Who Couldn't Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought and it provides a typical picture of the way irrational thoughts can.

In an earlier Guardian article, Claire Eastham explained how CBT helped her deal with another anxiety disorder, recurrent panic attacks that began at the age of 15 and might have endangered a promising career, or worse.

Unlike too many people who suffer from these conditions, Yasmin resolved to do something about it. She found, like Adam, that CBT, and regular exercise, changed her life.

"They recommended I start using exercise to take the edge off the adrenalin, and they suggested Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I had 10 sessions, which was all I could afford, and it changed everything. It wasn't only that I was able to be honest about how I was feeling, that off-loading on to someone who understands, as opposed to someone who just thinks 'Oh, snap out of it', felt so good. The therapy gave me the tools I need to rationalise. You have to commit to CBT; you have to put the time aside. But it does work. I still have bad days, but at least now I have a strategy."

The CBT taught her to challenge the voices in her head. "The thoughts I have… there's a formula: you notice the same ones again and again. For instance, at work, the voice says I'm a loser, weird, bad at my job, that it was only thanks to luck that I got it at all. Someone would speak to me, and instead of listening to what they were saying, all I could think was: I need to get out of here or I'll make a fool of myself."

CBT or graded exposure therapy, sometimes with the help of medication, can help in 80% of cases.

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.