OCD, courage and adaptability

Blog post written by,

Dr. Lissette Cortes, PsyD

Some say that therapy is meant to be filled with butterflies and rainbows, and that going to therapy is meant to “make the bad go away” and “feel better.” Although ultimately this is our goal, to create life-supporting changes through the process of therapy, it’s important to remember that the journey there may not look so pretty. As an OCD therapist, this was a big lesson I learned early on in my career.

I began to write this blog with a purpose of building awareness on OCD, as part of OCD awareness month in October. I started to think about what people with or without OCD would want to know about the process of treatment and how OCD presents. I kept coming back to this idea of courage and adaptability because it is the one constant that I see in all the patients I treat no matter how different, and personally unique their OCD is.

We know that no two people’s OCDs are the same. We have a very long list of symptoms, obsessions and compulsions all qualifying under this diagnosis, and all of which can create incredible amounts of unique combinations in their presentation. There is no one cookie cutter way of what OCD looks like, despite what we have seen in the media. Spoiler alert, it is not just about washing and being organized. But OCD is about looking fear in the eye and approaching it anyways.

When I first begin working with someone with OCD, I often tell them: “Don’t go by how you are feeling, to measure how successful you are being in treatment.” I have learned that we tend to think that if we are happier, less anxious, more relaxed then we take this to mean that we are doing better. For OCD this may not always be the case, and this does not mean failure.

We all have heard the saying that in order to have different results, we need to do things differently, and this is the best example of success in OCD treatment. A better measuring stick for OCD success is what you are capable of doing differently, despite how you may feel and what fears you may have. And this takes a great deal of courage. For those making the commitment to OCD treatment, they do so with the awareness and willingness to engage in uncertain scenarios while challenging believes of possible catastrophic outcomes. This in turn brings on incredible amounts of fear, anxiety and distress. It is like jumping into a pool, when you don’t know how cold or deep it is, while also not knowing if you can swim or not, or if the water is actually water or toxic waste, but somehow you are willing to take a shot and find out. And then, going on vacation takes a whole new meaning when you can swim in any pool you like.

People with OCD are incredibly resilient and this is in huge part due to adaptability. When life throws lemons at them, not only do they make lemonade, but they also become best sellers of their own lemonade cookbooks. Adaptability is not only being able to adjust to new conditions but also the ability to modify something for a new use and purpose. Fear and anxiety become part of the process, rather than the exception. It is the ability to fully feel these feelings and recognize them an indication of success happening, which make people with OCD so adaptable. By engaging in feared situations, fear, anxiety and distress are modified to indicate success, achievement and prevail.

OCD treatment focuses on fostering and developing courage, and with this, the increasing the ability to adapt to new and challenging experiences not only in OCD but also in life in general. Success in OCD treatment looks messy, and is often not pretty. But it is incredibly rewarding. No one decides to have OCD. But many do decide to confront pain, danger and fear with the willingness to do so to improve their lives, to adapt and ultimately live fully.



Eating Disorder and OCD Expert

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