Watching Others Perform Compulsions Could Offer Those With OCD Some Relief

For those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, even simple tasks can manifest as enormous struggles. The disorder presents itself differently in everyone, but it nominally causes excessive thoughts or obsessions that lead to repetitive behaviors, or compulsions. Most commonly, people associate OCD with repetitive hand washing or switching a light on and off. For better or worse, Tony Shaloub’s work in Monk as the brilliant but troubled detective Adrian Monk is what people think of.

If you or someone you love has OCD, you know that living a “normal” life with OCD is hard. However, a new study featured in New Scientist from Baland Jalal at the University of Cambridge and  Vilayanur Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego may have found a way to bring people with OCD a bit of relief from their compulsions. It turns out that for some, simply watching someone else perform their compulsion helps them fight the urge to perform their own.

It’s sort of a new twist on the traditional treatment for OCD — exposure therapy (exposing the patient to something that triggers an obsession, and not allowing them to perform their compulsion). The study used videos of people performing the compulsions as exposure, which in some cases, triggered the part of the brain that becomes active when the person performs the compulsion themselves. Essentially, it tricks the brain into thinking the compulsion was performed.

So what does that mean for everyday life? Jalal wants to turn this treatment into an app that would make help more accessible to everyone. Much like apps TalkSpace and Better Help, it could offer help to those who can’t afford to see a therapist or psychiatrist. And for those with severe OCD, fighting compulsions that inflict bodily harm on themselves, the app could be a safe substitute for the harmful compulsions paired with more conventional treatment.

While the researchers are still testing how a wider range of those with OCD respond to this new method of therapy, it’s exciting to see how science and technology are evolving in ways that can help us manage our mental health.

What other ways would you like to see technology evolve to offer better care for mental health? What are some misconceptions you’d like to clear up about OCD? Tell us in the comments!

Images: USA Network

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