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“Pure-O” OCD: Common Obsessions & Mental Rituals

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As a follow-up to my previous post on Pure-O OCD, I thought it might be helpful to identify some obsessions that are commonly reported by individuals with Pure Obsessional OCD.  These same obsessions may also be experienced by individuals with non-Pure-O forms of the disorder.  Keep in mind that some of these symptoms are quite common (when experienced in a limited form) and may or may not represent an underlying psychological condition.  If you experience symptoms like these, consult with your doctor for clarification.  I am also available to conduct assessments and provide treatment if you’re located in South Florida (Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, & Miami). Remember that most people who have Pure-O OCD actually perform compulsions.  These compulsions just tend to be mental rather than behavioral in nature.  Mental rituals...

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Pure-O OCD (Pure Obsessional OCD): Hidden Rituals

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“Pure-O” OCD, or Pure Obsessional OCD, is a relatively less common form of OCD that seemingly differs from classic presentations of the illness.  What distinguishes Pure Obsessional OCD from classic OCD is that in Pure-O OCD, symptoms are predominantly obsessive (rather than compulsive) in nature.  Although individuals with Pure-O OCD frequently experience intense and distressing obsessions, they typically report few (if any) overt compulsive behaviors.  However, in almost all cases, pure obsessionals do engage in a variety of rituals.  These rituals  just manifest as mental compulsions rather than behavioral compulsions. Unfortunately, most psychologists haven’t been trained in how to ask the types of questions that are necessary to identify these “hidden rituals.”  As a consequence, these rituals often go undetected.  Because effective treatment requires consistent response prevention, a failure to recognize and resist mental compulsions makes true exposure and response prevention (ERP) impossible.  Treatment...

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Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) for OCD: Treatment Mechanism

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How does ERP work?  What mechanism underlies it? Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by obsessions and compulsions.  Obsessions are disturbing thoughts, images, or impulses that increase feelings of anxiety. Compulsions (also known as “rituals”) are the strategies that individuals with OCD use to reduce the anxiety associated with obsessions.  Rituals are effective coping strategies in the short-term, in that they lead to fairly rapid decreases in anxiety.  However, rituals are considered maladaptive, because the anxiety relief they bring is short-lived.  Engaging in rituals ultimately increases the likelihood that obsessions will be re-experienced in the future.  This can be thought of as a positive feedback loop, in which compulsive behavior indirectly reinforces obsessions.  This is depicted in the bottom half of the included figure. The treatment of choice for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP), which not surprisingly, has...

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Decision Making Abnormalities

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Does OCD affect decision making processes? Now that we have reviewed the neurobiology of OCD and cognitive deficits associated with OCD, what relevance might this have for predicting abnormalities on tasks of decision making? Sachdev and Malhi (2005) recently have drawn attention to the substantial overlap between the circuitry implicated in OCD and the circuitry required for intact performance on simple decision tasks.  They suggest that due to the commonalities of these neural systems, individuals with OCD would be expected to exhibit deficits on tasks of decision making.  Furthermore, they indicate that OCD might even be conceptualized appropriately as a disorder of decision making, given that many of the hallmark features of the disorder seemingly arise from a primary deficit in decision making processes.  For example, OCD doubt and the inability to decide whether or not one’s hands have...

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Cognitive Deficits

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What cognitive deficits are associated with OCD? Research has been successful in characterizing the underlying neurobiology of OCD, and cognitive abnormalities associated with the disorder have been documented within the domains of basic learning processes, attention, and executive functioning, each of which arguably is requisite for intact decision making.  We will begin by highlighting abnormalities in basic associative learning processes that have been observed in OCD and subsequently will extend our discussion to higher level cognitive processes. Basic Associative Learning in OCD The idea that pathological anxiety might develop initially via basic associative learning mechanisms was advanced largely by Mowrer (1939), who proposed a two factor theory about anxiety development.  Mowrer (1939) hypothesized that during an initial learning stage, anxiety develops via classical conditioning processes.  This occurs when a neutral cue becomes associated with fear due to a negative...

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Neurobiology

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What causes OCD? Researchers have had much recent success in elucidating the neural circuitry involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  Advances in functional neuroimaging have identified robust alterations in neural activity within particular functional circuits in individuals with the disorder (Graybiel & Rauch, 2000).  Specifically, OCD is associated with pervasive disruptions in frontal subcortical circuitry (Luxenberg et al., 1988; Robinson et al., 1995).  Before we discuss abnormalities in this circuitry related to OCD, it is worth reviewing the generalities of this neural system. Frontal subcortical circuitry in OCD According to Tekin and Cummings (2002), frontal subcortical circuits share several commonalities.  They often “originate in prefrontal cortex, project to the striatum (caudate, putamen, ventral striatum), connect to the globus pallidus and substantia nigra and from there connect to the thalamus.  There is a final link back to the frontal cortex [such...

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