How many times do you have to wash your hands until they are really clean? One time a day? Five times a day? Would you be surprised if some people wash their hands over 100 times day? This “germ phobia”, while disrupting to daily life, is sometimes the least of worries for people suffering with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) in the department of psychology is offering new insight into OCD and ways to treat/alleviate it. With over 3.3 million Adults in America suffering from OCD each year and the high probability of countless more undiagnosed cases, this research is close to offering some answers.
Jonathan S. Abramowitz and co-workers in the Department of Psychology at UNC-CH have shown there to be an unmistakable connection between the concepts of experiential avoidance with the symptoms of OCD. Experiential avoidance, commonly described as a person going to irrational measures to avoid experiencing such unpleasant triggers as disturbing thoughts, emotions, etc., has been previously thought to relate to OCD, but this is the first study proving that it indeed does.
“There are competing theories for explaining obsessive-compulsive (OC) symptoms and this study was designed to try to figure out which theory is stronger. Knowing this can help with better understanding and treating people with OCD,” said Abramowitz.
The study was conducted using 353 volunteer students from UNC-CH enrolled in an introductory psychology course. The students, under confidentiality, were administered three questionnaires via internet at their convenience measuring: 1) tendency for experiential avoidance; 2) tendency towards depression; and 3) tendency towards specific OCD symptoms, such as hand-washing, hoarding, checking, etc. After scoring the questionnaires based on certain criteria published in literature, the researchers divided the scores into two groups, one with a higher degree of obsessive compulsive (OC) symptoms, and another with a much lower degree. The analysis at the core of the journal article was created from the data specific to the group with a higher OC tendency.
Upon examining the results from a statistical analysis of the higher OC group, the researchers discovered that “As expected, the High-OC group evidenced greater levels of…experiential avoidance relative to the Low-OC group.”
But how is this new and what does this mean for the public afflicted with OCD?
From the results of this research, “…people with OCD probably have specific dysfunctional beliefs that underlie their OCD symptoms moreso than having a general tendency to avoid unpleasant experiences. Also, that treatment might be focused on modifying obsessive beliefs which underlie the problem, rather than helping patient develop more psychological flexibility in general,” said Abramowitz.
When looking at what is to come next, “Future research should examine this same question using actual treatment-seeking patients with OCD…[rather than using a]… non-clinical sample of people scoring highly on a measure of OCD symptoms,” says Abramowitz.
It can sometimes be difficult to treat such an illness as OCD, but what remains certain is that the illness can never be treated or cured if you are focusing on the wrong aspect of the illness. Thanks to Abramowitz and co-workers at UNC-CH, even more successful treatments for this condition are that much closer to becoming a reality.
Peer-reviewed literature: Abramowitz, Jonathan S., Gerald R. Lackey, and Michael G. Wheaton "Obsessive-compulsive Symptoms: The Contribution of Obsessional Beliefs and Experiential Avoidance." Journal of Anxiety Disorders 23 (2009): 160-166.
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