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Specific phobias: symptoms & CBT treatment (reader question)

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Question: Basically, I wanted to know from an expert, what can a phobia do to a person? How does it affect them mentally? Also I see that you’ve got a new treatment philosophy — is there any way you can talk me through it? One of the goals of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is to learn to better understand the interrelationships among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  Once you understand how these things are connected, it gives you a lot of power to implement change. Most people who seek therapy do so because they are experiencing an emotion they don’t want to have.  In the case of depression, the person might feel sad.  In the case of a phobia, the person might feel scared.  People often have trouble modifying these feelings directly because emotions tend to be somewhat involuntary.  If...

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ERP therapy for OCD: Shifting from destructive to constructive to gestalt notions

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Here’s a question for you: Is exposure and response prevention (ERP) fundamentally a destructive or constructive process? I think that many people naturally conceptualize it as more of the former than the latter. They conceive of ERP as being the process by which we can “unlearn” or “weaken” maladaptive associations. We learn, through repetition, to no longer be afraid of those things that previously incited fear. On the surface, this appears to be a notion predicated on destruction. In actuality, it is not. If you ever take the time to refer back to the basic animal literature on fear learning and fear “unlearning”, you’ll find that associations appear to be weakened largely as a consequence of new learning taking place. This new learning competes with (and weakens the expression of) previous learning. It is this process that accounts for...

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Advanced ERP for OCD: how subtle rituals can limit your progress

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What is exposure and response prevention (ERP) for OCD? As any good psychologist experienced in treating OCD can tell you, the most effective treatment for OCD is exposure and ritual prevention (ERP).  You may also see this type of therapy referred to as exposure and response prevention.  In this case, the semantics are immaterial; the concepts are exactly the same.  ERP is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that is based on the premise that the best way to reduce your symptoms is to practice activities designed to trigger your anxiety and then resist any urges to ritualize.  ERP has two main components: exposure – purposely doing activities that are designed to elicit your anxiety response prevention – actively resisting the urge to complete a ritual For example, for someone who worries about germs, an exposure might involve...

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OCD guilt, shame, disgust, anxiety & depression: Why treatment sometimes fails (and what to do about it)

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OCD isn’t just about anxiety. Although anxiety is certainly a prominent feature of the disorder, clinicians who only attend to anxious symptoms can easily overlook some of its other core features. As a psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida, I work closely with kids, teens, and adults throughout the greater Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami areas on strategies for recovering from OCD. In the patients I treat, anxiety is often accompanied by significant guilt, shame, disgust, and depression. These features are not necessarily related to, or caused by, anxiety; they can be distinct processes. If you (or your psychologist) conceptualize exposure and response prevention (ERP) as only a means to habituate to anxiety but fail to consider how treatment must also address these other features, you are likely to have a suboptimal treatment response and will continue to experience significant...

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OCD, ERP, & doubt sensitivity: Shattering the illusion of certainty

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Many individuals with OCD hunger for certainty. It’s a craving that often can’t be easily sated. Early conceptions of OCD from the 19th century acknowledged this issue directly, in that OCD was often termed the “doubting disease.” It is this need for certainty, the need to eliminate doubt, that leads many people with OCD to perform repetitive behaviors, which are known as rituals. For example, it is doubt about whether one’s hands are sufficiently clean that leads one to engage in repetitive hand-washing rituals. Likewise, uncertainty about whether a stove has been turned off (and worry about potentially dire consequences) can underlie checking rituals. Many different types of rituals involve reassurance-seeking behaviors. For people with OCD who have intrusive bad thoughts (e.g., What if I secretly want to hurt a family member? What if I don’t believe in God...

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Palm Beach trichotillomania (trich) support group

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Okay, so in addition to the possible Palm Beach OCD support group, I am also thinking about forming a trichotillomania (trich) support group. For those of you who aren’t familiar with trichotillomania, it’s an impulse control disorder that is associated with compulsive hair-pulling behaviors. It is likely that trich will soon be officially reclassified as an OC-spectrum disorder in the upcoming DSM-V, which is the manual that psychiatrists and psychologists use when making mental health diagnoses. Possibilities for the group location include Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, Juno, or West Palm Beach. Miami and Fort Lauderdale locations might also be considered, but these are unlikely at this point. If you’re interested in this, please let me know. If you would like to receive email reminders about upcoming support groups, you can access our sign-up form here. Questions? Comments? Sound off...

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