Maaike suffered for 35 years from obsessions before she started treatment. During those 35 years she suffered every day from her mysophobia. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but never without. Her obsessive behaviour to stay clean took at least an hour a day but often more than that. Eighteen weeks of treatment reduced the problem to about half of that and after a year to significantly less. In the book Slave of my thoughts, author Marte van Santen extensively documents this process.
Participants of the TV program Lifelong OCD were treated intensively for fourteen days. We all witnessed the tremendous progress that participants achieved. In those cases too, the amount of time participants spent dealing with their compulsions was dramatically reduced.
For example, Marieke reduced the time she spent counting and looking for symmetry from around eight to three hours per day. Three hours is still an awful lot, but at least it is five hours less than eight. Five hours is about a third of the average waking day. The improvement was achieved after two weeks.
These are examples of improvements that can be achieved with OCD treatments, even when the OCD has developed to a serious stage. However, we are far from fully utilising the available possibilities.
Experts and estimations
Paul Salkovskis, an expert in the field, notes about OCD that the problem lies in the solution. By saying this, he means that the solution found by a sufferer makes their uneasiness even worse. Compulsions provide relief at first but in the long term they aggravate the obsessive uneasiness. A person improves their ability to recognise a situation that can cause anxiety or doesn’t feel right, therefore increasing intolerance to those situations. In a way, you unwittingly refine your peril detector.
Damiaan Denys, a Dutch expert in the field, calls OCD an addiction to reassurance. Most people enjoy a bit of reassurance but for those who are sensitive to obsessive compulsive behaviour, it often works contrarily. They need more and more. Just like alcohol. That too isn’t a problem for most people, but some can’t stick to moderation and become dependent.
In the Netherlands, an estimated 150,000-300,000 people suffer from an obsessive compulsive disorder. Only a small number of those receive treatment. Even a smaller number receive adequate treatment according to the professional guidelines. On average, people who do receive treatment have suffered for around seven years.
Persistent problems often aren’t resolved without proper treatment. As with physical problems, psychological problems can have serious consequences if left untreated.
The potential of the war on OCD
We saw how much can be achieved in a short time for people with serious long-lasting OCD. How much more could be achieved when people learn to deal with their proneness to develop OCD, in a timely and proper way? When they recognise the signals at an early stage? Currently, they mostly learn helpful responses after they’ve used the wrong ones for years on end. This is not a condemnation of people who suffer from OCD. Anybody would do the same in their situation.
The problem with the obsessive compulsive disorder doesn’t lie in the (wrong) solution, but in not offering right education about recognition of (early) symptoms and treatment options. This causes people to grab to the wrong solution.
OCD and addiction: there are similarities and differences. The “war on drugs” only provide part of the solution for people with an addiction. A “war on OCD” could however achieve much through better education and treatment.