The following is an excerpt about neurofeedback and obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors from an article I wrote titled NeurOptimal® and Anxiety. You can download the full article here.
Obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors
These are interesting clients to work with. Besides the classic hand-washing, repetitive lock-checking suffering that most of us have heard about, there are other behaviors and traits that are not as well known. Perfectionism, for example – lots of compulsive behavior there. Endlessly thinking things through, especially problems that haven’t happened yet, is obsessing. Some people have to repeat and count actions or words. It may take some of those who deal with these behaviors hours to get ready for work. Often, it interferes with having healthy relationships and a satisfying life. Do you feel you have to “knock wood” to ward off bad events? Imagine that being multiplied hundreds of times a day.
What happens with NeurOptimal®? In general I find that when reducing or ending obsessive or compulsive behaviors is on people’s wish lists it may take a bit longer to shift than “plain” anxiety. (I always prepare to be surprised, though, and often I am.)
Frequently the client’s relationship to the behaviors and thinking changes first. Here’s an example: Joe had many, many rituals that he had to perform to soothe powerful anxiety. Most had to do with things that open and close something: Locks and doors, zippers, buttons and buttonholes all required tedious and tension filled repetitions. Joe routinely wore slip-on shoes because they came without fasteners, eliminating the need for a ritual.
The number of repetitions changed often. It typically started with four, then became eight, then 16. When it was unbearably high, Joe would “reset” the requirement to four. All the repetitive behaviors had to be done in even numbers. Sometimes he could make one go away, but the behavior would pop up somewhere else.
People who don’t have this kind of problem usually wonder why the person doesn’t just stop. It’s not that easy. It’s as if one part of the brain hijacks the rest.
One rainy day Joe came in to my office wearing brown and yellow lace-up foul weather boots. I looked down at them and asked, “Is it getting easier to wear shoes that tie?” He shook his head. “No, but I decided I didn’t want the presence or absence of shoe laces to control my choice of shoes. And it’s a lake out there today!”
That was Joe’s relationship to his rituals changing – powerfully. Down the road, he found he had to do less and less of the rituals. He had worked with a specialist in the past but hadn’t been able to implement the techniques they talked about. He went back to that therapist and was much more successful the second time around. His rituals didn’t go away completely, but his life became much easier. Joe estimated he had reduced the rituals to 5% of their previous level. “I have a life now,” Joe said.
That kind of revelatory moment – Joe’s choosing to not let his choices be limited – is common for clients. They realize that they’ve been worrying about a feared disaster for years, sometimes decades, without it ever having happened. They begin to trust their ability to cope if something bad does befall them. Prioritizing for behaviors that are life-affirming becomes possible because they have deeply recognized the lack of true usefulness in the old way of living. Their brains have rewired themselves.
If you have questions about neurofeedback and obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors or anxiety in general, please ask either here on the blog or email me confidentially.
Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW
New York Neurofeedback