Tuesday, September 09, 2014

OCD: Obsessive Type and Scrupulosity

A few years ago I had the privilege of speaking to an expert in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I was informed that there are sub-types of OCD that the Diagnostic Manual did not address at the time. The two types that really stuck out to me were the "Obsessive Type" and "Scrupulosity."

In order to understand either, let's talk briefly about OCD. OCD is an anxiety disorder that has a few distinct symptoms: anxiousness (emotional, cognitive, and physical); and compulsion (can include rituals, outward and inward behaviors to decrease the anxiousness). There must be both of these symptoms in order to have a diagnosis. Anxiety is obsessive and continuous worry that has little or no foundation or reason to it (i.e. stressing over finances because you're broke does not count). It is worrying about things that may not be true or rational. However, to the person with OCD, it feels real in every sense and evidence is often sought to support the obsessive thoughts and worries. When the anxiousness increases, the individual can get stuck in an anxious thinking loop; then, the desire to decrease the anxiety begins and the individual engages in compulsive behaviors. We have all heard of the obsessive hand-washing, counting, touching objects, etc. compulsions; however, with the other two types, the compulsions may be different. The "Obsessive Type" is when the anxious thinking is tied to the compulsion. The individual gets stuck in a "thought loop" where they feel compelled to continue thinking about the anxious thoughts in order to control them or to change them--or perhaps to come to a new conclusion. The thoughts feed on themselves and the compulsion to think more and to analyze more feeds anxiousness. It results in heightened anxiety and can even lead to depression.

Scrupulosity is an interesting type as it can be a part of perfectionistic patterns of behavior and to spiritual and/or religious beliefs. For example, an individual can believe that if they do not pray enough or long enough or a specific amount of time, then God will smite them or harm someone else or will not bless them. This can lead to trying to live "perfectly" without flaw or fault, which ultimately can lead to disappointment, depression, and disillusionment with beliefs of who God is.

Now, the main issue is how to deal with OCD in all of its complexities. First off, if you struggle with it, remember that it is a diagnosis and not a label. It's interesting how people will say "I'm OCD" as if it is a name or an identifying feature. Typically speaking, obsessive thinking and compulsions actually have more to do with biological processes in the brain than the person or their personality. Secondly, when an individual is engaging in the obsessive and compulsive thinking and behaviors, it means that the brain is "stuck" in the loop and needs to be redirected. The expert I spoke to indicated that the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Therefore, focusing on something else (such as reciting a long poem from memory) will pull the brain out of the loop. This may need to be done more than once, and that's okay! After the individual is out of the loop, then they can begin to think rationally through the process that has just occurred. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be a big help at this point, as well. OCD requires management and maintenance. The goal of treatment is to decrease the symptoms over time, but this requires consistent work on the individual.

If any of my three readers are interested in more information, feel free to leave a comment.

Jamison Law