How Do You Treat OCD with Hypnosis?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) causes people to have recurrent unwanted, or unreasonable thoughts or sensations (obsessions) or make them feel driven to do something repeatedly (compulsions).  Common obsessions include fear of germs, while common compulsions include wanting to keep things in a particular order.  If a compulsion cannot be accomplished, a person with OCD tends to become anxious. 

OCD represents a type of anxiety.  Just like with anxiety, it should only be considered a disorder if it causes difficulties in life.  A low level of obsessive-compulsive behavior can be helpful.  For example, if a person worries that they might not have turned off the stove and double checks it once, this will help keep them safer.  On the other hand, if a person cannot proceed with their daily tasks without checking the stove multiple times the situation can be considered a disorder.  Similarly, accountants who double check their figures once or twice are more accurate in their work.  However, if they must check more times than that they are dealing with OCD. 

Treatments for OCD 

Common treatments for OCD include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), certain types of anti-depressant medications, and a combination of both types of therapies.  A specific kind of CBT is exposure response prevention therapy.  In this therapy, patients with OCD are encouraged to expose themselves to triggers of their OCD and learn to tolerate their anxiety when they do not follow through on their compulsions or engage with their obsessive thoughts.  After consistent therapy, the patients’ anxiety decreases to a tolerable level that allows them to avoid OCD behavior comfortably, and sometimes even resolves. 

Hypnosis for OCD 

Since the mainstay of psychological therapy for OCD involves learning to cope with anxiety caused by evading a thought or behavior related to the OCD, hypnosis techniques to help relieve OCD are similar to those used in the treatment of anxiety disorders.  For example, patients can be taught to calm themselves by imagining that they are in their favorite place that brings them happiness.  They are coached to imagine what they might experience through use of all five senses in order to intensify their relaxation.  Some patients can imagine placing their anxiety in a helium balloon and letting it go.  The further away the balloon travels the less anxiety they can feel.  Another hypnotic metaphor that is especially apt for obsessive thoughts is to observe them as if they are clouds in the sky that float by.  

Patients can be coached to take deep breaths using their diaphragm, which prompts their abdomen to expand with each inhalation.  Such a breathing pattern for several breaths calms the mind and body through release of calming body chemicals.  Hypnotic metaphors that help teach such a breathing pattern include imagining a sailboat at the lower tip of the breastbone that rises with each inhalation or imagining the belly to be a yoyo that rises each time a facilitator raises their hand in correspondence with each inhalation. 

Finally, hypnosis can be used to prompt the patient to imagine how they will feel and act once their OCD improves.  This can serve as a helpful, encouraging goal toward which they can continue to strive during therapy. 

Take Home Message 

Hypnosis can help in the treatment of OCD by teaching patients skills to calm the anxiety that can be associated with learning how to avoid OCD thoughts and behaviors. 

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Author
Profile Photo or Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP Ran D. Anbar, MD Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP, is board certified in both pediatric pulmonology and general pediatrics, offering hypnosis and counseling services at Center Point Medicine in La Jolla, California, and Syracuse, New York. Dr. Anbar is also a fellow and approved consultant of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Dr. Anbar is a leader in clinical hypnosis, and his 20 years of experience have allowed him to successfully treat over 5,000 children. He also served as a professor of pediatrics and medicine and the director of pediatric pulmonology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, for 21 years.

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