By Dean Stone
From PHN Issue 21, Summer 2014
If I had one nickel for every time I heard of someone here in prison having some odd behaviors or being labeled OCD, I’d be able to afford that crack team of lawyers who would get me out of here. But recent articles and books indicate that a great deal of progress in treating OCD can occur even without intensive psychotherapy or medication. People in prison have the opportunity to use the four-step treatment method outlined by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz in his book, Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior.
OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) occurs when thoughts spiral out of control, sometimes including all-consuming rituals that we think will avert some imagined catastrophe. There is no realistic connection between the behaviors and the feared catastrophes. OCD is related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain that can effectively be treated without drugs.
Dr. Schwartz describes OCD as the brain sending false messages of distress that other parts of the brain do not recognize clearly as false. The automatic movement part of the brain locks on a pattern and does not shift properly to the next or other thoughts. A common example is washing one’s hands 20 times before breakfast. In the movie The Aviator, Leonardo DiCaprio spoke a phrase, “I need to see the blueprints,” dozens of times. To people with OCD, the realization that these compulsions are caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain can come as a great relief.
With this self-help therapy, not only is external behavior changed, but brain chemistry is changed by one’s behavior and becomes more healthy. What can be wrong with increased self-control? Why wouldn’t this improve the ability to cope with difficult housing conditions while imprisoned? It will also help us have one less hang-up upon release.
The four steps Dr. Schwartz speaks of in dealing with OCD may take weeks or months of hard work. Please see a copy of Brain Lock for more details.
Re-label: Seeing one’s obsessive thoughts or compulsive urges as what they are: unpleasant and unwanted. Refuse to take bothersome thoughts at face value. They’re wrong!
Re-attribute: Remind yourself, “I’m having this bothersome thought because of a medical problem. It’s a biochemical imbalance in my brain.”
Re-focus: Train yourself to turn to more constructive behaviors, such as exercising or reading. Try to do this for just five or 15 minutes to start.
Re-value: Realize the bothersome thoughts are not worth paying attention to: “That’s just a senseless message. I’m going to focus on something worth my time instead.”
Dr. Schwartz’s methods can help tens of thousands. Perhaps it will help you and me too.