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The Synergy of Somatic Experiencing and OCD Recovery

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in the United States in a given year, an estimated 1.2% of adults have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Despite millions of people facing challenges, OCD recovery is impaired by the significant number of people who go untreated each year. As Mental Health America (MHA) notes, only 54.7% of adults (nearly 28 million adults) receive support for OCD recovery. One of the many challenges in addressing OCD symptoms and treatment for OCD recovery is awareness and knowledge.

Few people in the public have a detailed or accurate understanding of OCD or the challenges of OCD recovery. According to “Stigma and Recognition of Different Types of Symptoms in OCD” by Ryan J. McCarty et al., both stigma and poor illness recognition are two major barriers to seeking treatment and OCD recovery. Moreover, the article also highlights that the public has a broad definition of OCD, being a combination of function-impairing obsessions and compulsions.

However, obsessive symptoms – like unwanted thoughts about sexual, aggressive, violent, and religious taboos – can lead to stigmatized feelings of shame. In addition, poor mental health disorder recognition of your own or other symptoms can decrease treatment entry and engagement. While the public recognizes the need for OCD recovery support, poor mental health literacy increases stigma. Additionally,, the public is more likely to perceive harm and taboo obsessions as unacceptable and criminal rather than as symptoms of a treatable mental health disorder.

At The Guest House, we believe in championing a holistic approach to OCD recovery. OCD and OCD recovery challenges are often interrelated with trauma and co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health disorders. Through holistic healing, you can have individualized treatment to address the roots of your challenges. Holistic care focuses on treating you as a whole person for healing in mind, body, and spirit. With a comprehensive treatment plan, you can build tools for symptom management and sustained wellness.

Awareness and knowledge through education can empower you to effect positive change in your life. Thus, without awareness and understanding of OCD symptoms, the ability to foster OCD recovery with effective treatment plans becomes compounded. Therefore, understanding how OCD functions is an important first step toward OCD recovery. Increased self-awareness and self-understanding will highlight the variety of holistic therapeutic methods that can support your OCD recovery.

Begin OCD Recovery By Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

As noted in Medline Plus, OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by repeated thoughts (obsessions) and rituals (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions are typically out of your control and significantly impair your ability to function. Some of the common signs and symptoms of OCD obsessions and compulsions that can impede OCD recovery, according to the International OCD Foundation, include:

  • Obsessions: Repeated unwanted thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety
    • Contamination obsessions: Fear of coming into contact with germs and or contamination
      • Bodily fluids
      • Dirt
      • Environmental contaminants
        • Asbestos
        • Radiation
      • Household chemicals
    • Sexual obsessions: Unwanted taboo thoughts and or mental images related to sex
      • You fear acting on a sexual impulse
      • Fear of sexually harming children, relatives, or others
    • Religious/moral obsessions: Unwanted taboo thoughts and or mental images related to religion/morality
      • Fear of offending God
      • You are fearful or concerned about blasphemy
      • Fear of damnation
      • Excessively concerned with morality or what is right and wrong
    • Identity obsessions: Experiencing excessive concern about your sexual orientation
      • You experience excessive concern about your gender identity
    • Responsibility obsessions: Fearful that you are responsible for something terrible happening
      • Car accidents
      • Fires
      • Robbery
      • Burglary
      • You are afraid that others will be harmed because you are not being careful enough
      • Worrying that harm will come to yourself or others
    • Perfectionism obsessions: You have excessive concern about things being even or exact
      • Experiencing excessive concern about needing to know or remember things
      • Fear of losing, forgetting, or misplacing things
      • You are fearful about making mistakes
      • Experiencing excessive concern with performing tasks “perfectly” or “correctly”
    • Violent obsessions: Experiencing aggressive thoughts towards yourself and or others
      • You are fearful that you will act on an impulse to harm yourself or others
      • Experiencing excessive concerns about violent or horrific images in your head
    • Other obsessions
      • Relationship-related obsessions
        • Excessively concerned about your partner’s flaws and qualities
        • You are excessively worried about whether your partner is “the one”
        • Excessive concern about other relationships
          • Relatives
          • Friends
      • Obsessive thoughts about death and or existence
        • Preoccupation with existential and philosophical themes
          • Death
          • Your role in the universe
        • Fear of losing control of your behavior
        • Real event/false memories
          • Excessive concern about things that happened in the past
          • Concerned about the impact of past things
        • Fear of emotional contamination
          • Catching others’ personality traits or personal characteristics
  • Compulsions: Repetitive behaviors you feel like you have to do over and over to alleviate anxiety or obsessive thoughts
    • Washing and cleaning
      • Excessive handwashing and or washing hands in a specific way
      • You engage in excessive showering, bathing, brushing your teeth, and grooming
      • Excessively cleaning household items and other objects
    • Checking things
      • You did not/will not harm yourself or others
      • Nothing terrible happened
      • You did not make any mistakes
      • Excessively checking parts of your body
      • You excessively check if the door is locked or if the stove is off
    • Repeating things
      • Excessive routine activities
        • Going in and out of a door
        • Getting up and sitting down
        • Flicking a light switch on and off
      • Performing tasks in multiples
        • Doing things a specific number of times because there is a good, right, or safe number
      • Compulsive counting
      • Body movements
        • Tapping
        • Touching
        • Blinking
  • Mental compulsions: Taking a mental review of events to prevent harm to yourself and or others, and terrible consequences
    • Praying to prevent harm from happening to yourself or others
    • Counting while doing a task to end on a good, right, or safe number
    • Canceling or undoing things
      • Replacing a bad word with a good word to cancel out the bad word
  • Other compulsions
    • The need to put things in a specific order or arrange things until it feels right
    • Constantly seeking reassurance
    • Repeating words silently
    • Avoidance behaviors
      • Staying away from situations that might trigger your obsessions

Addressing Risk Factors

The exact cause of OCD is unknown, yet many challenges for OCD recovery can be tied to genetics, brain biology and chemistry, and environmental factors. Moreover, OCD can develop regardless of race and ethnicity, sex and gender identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. The prevalence of OCD is slightly higher in females at 1.8% compared to males at 0.5%. Yet, boys are more likely to develop OCD earlier than girls. In addition, some children can develop OCD, but is more likely to become apparent in teenagers and young adults.

Although the cause of OCD is unclear, there are some common risk factors to look out for to support OCD recovery. As the NIMH states, some of the common risk factors for OCD include:

  • Genetics and family history
    • A first-degree relative (parent or sibling) has OCD
    •  Further increased risk if the relative developed OCD as a child or teenager
  • Biology
    • Differences in brain structure
      • Frontal cortex and subcortical structures
      • Differences in areas that control behavior and emotional responses
    • Several brain areas, brain networks, and biological processes impact
      • Obsessive thoughts
      • Compulsive behavior
      • Fear and anxiety
  • Temperament
    • More reserved behaviors
    • Experiencing more negative emotions
    • Symptoms of depression and anxiety in childhood
  • Childhood trauma
    • Child abuse
      • Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
    • Neglect
      • Physical and emotional
        • Not meeting basic needs
    • Abandonment

Thus, looking at the risk factors of OCD gives you a better understanding of its features and the potential challenges for OCD recovery. Now you can expand your knowledge on how your OCD symptoms can impede well-being and OCD recovery.

The Impact of OCD on Your Well-Being

More insight into the obsessions and compulsions of OCD highlights the symptom’s time-consuming nature and its impairment on OCD recovery. Your challenges with symptoms in OCD recovery lead to a significant amount of distress that negatively impacts your ability to function in your daily life. You may find it more difficult to find time outside of your obsessions and compulsions to do other activities, spend time with loved ones, or be productive at work and or school.

Further, your need to engage in these repetitive thinking and behaviors is deeply disruptive to your life and your relationships with others. The severity of symptoms increases OCD recovery difficulties as everyday tasks like eating, drinking, shopping, and reading are impaired. Some of the ways OCD recovery is impaired by untreated symptoms include:

  • Family strain
    • Disrupts activities and routines
    • Frustration from family members
    • Increased arguments
  • Work and or school challenges
    • Easily distracted by unwelcome thoughts
    • Constantly worrying about what your co-workers and or classmates think of you and your behaviors
    • You experience challenges with indecisiveness
    • Decreased productivity due to prolonged engagement in rituals
    • Constantly late or avoiding work or school because of preoccupation with symptoms
    • Increased risk for health issues
      • Unable to use public restrooms at work or school
    • Decreased engagement with tasks and or interactions
      • Unable to use different devices or objects for fear of contamination
    • Avoiding certain people and tasks that trigger symptoms
    • Poor work and or school performance
      • Dispensary actions
      • Poor grades
    • Feeling excluded from co-workers and or classmates
    • Loneliness
  • Other interpersonal relationship strain
    • Self-isolation
    • Communication barriers
    • You and others may feel powerless, hopeless, and helpless
    • People in your life may feel frustration and resentment
    • Romantic relationship obsessions
      • Constantly doubting the viability of the relationship and or the suitability of your partner
        • Hyper-focus on your partner’s perceived negative qualities and the challenges in the relationship
      • Doubting if you are actually in love with your partner
        • Constantly seeking reassurance from your partner or others about your relationship
      • Sexual functioning difficulties
        • This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and rejection
  • Social impairments
    • Difficulty recognizing how others feel
    • Challenges knowing what to say to people
    • Unable to figure out how others will react to the things you say
    • Difficulty expressing your feelings
    • Decreased ability to come up with ideas
    • Difficulty engaging in problem-solving skills
    • Unable to stop impulsive behaviors
    • Disproportional increased assertiveness and aggression in situations
    • Unable to be flexible to changes in schedule, routine, or environment
    • Feeling uncomfortable around others

Looking at the different ways untreated OCD can impede your daily life, relationships, and life goals, showcases the need for treatment for long-term OCD recovery. However, the ability to experience long-term OCD recovery can be further impeded by feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and decreased self-esteem about your symptoms or an OCD diagnosis. Seeking support is vital to managing and decreasing your distressing symptoms for effective OCD recovery.

With an increased understanding of your symptoms, you can recognize that you are not alone in the intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors you engage in. Recognizing and understanding how your symptoms impact you and your life, you can support your OCD recovery with comprehensive and holistic treatment approaches like somatic experiencing.

What Is Somatic Experiencing?

According to the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, somatic experiencing (SE) is a body-oriented therapy that focuses on the physical sensations in the body or how the body feels. Traditionally, SE has been used to treat chronic stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Working as a body-oriented therapeutic approach, SE addresses the bodily stress responses found in trauma and traumatic stress.

Your body’s response to traumatic experiences and stress is stuck in the flight or fight response system, which leaves you in a constant physical and psychological defensive state. Being in a constant state of defense is overwhelming and deeply distressing. Through SE, you focus on a bottom-up processing approach to modify your trauma-related stress responses. The steps taken to address and modify your stress responses start with first exploring your internal sensations rather than focusing on the cognitive and emotional deregulation.

Listed below are the bottom-up processing approach in SE:

  • Awareness of body sensations
    • Learning to recognize different parts of your body and how they feel
      • Feeling tension in your neck or back
  • Recognizing the connection between those bodily sensations and stress
    • Focusing on noticing the feelings that come up when you are stressed and or when you feel the body sensations
      • Tightness in your shoulders
      • Upset stomach
  • Learning how to focus on positive sensations, thoughts, and memories with guided imagery
    • Through guided imagery, you imagine a deeply detailed scene using all of your senses
      • The vivid imagery can be focused on a relaxing or happy scene
        • Supports deep relaxation and insight into yourself with a more positive frame of mind

Understanding how SE functions showcases the value it can have as a treatment tool for healing like in OCD recovery. However, you may wonder how SE can specifically support your OCD recovery.

Supporting OCD Recovery With Somatic Experiencing

There are two factors to consider when thinking about the benefits of SE for OCD recovery. Not only is trauma a common risk factor for OCD, but many challenges of OCD and OCD recovery include somatic symptoms. As noted in Medicine, Health Care, and Philosophy, somatic obsessions in OCD often leave you constantly paying attention and getting stuck on continuously breathing, swallowing, blinking, or checking your heartbeat.

Your hyper-awareness of your bodily functions, coupled with the trauma-related fight-flight-freeze system makes SE an effective treatment tool for OCD recovery. The symptoms of OCD highlight an overstimulated stress response that focuses on getting rid of and or avoiding perceived threats. With SE, you can work in collaboration with your clinician to address the roots of your somatic and psychological symptoms to support your OCD recovery.

Finding Individualized OCD Recovery at The Guest House

At The Guest House, somatic therapy principles are integral to our holistic healing approach to treatment and recovery. We believe true long-term OCD recovery starts with addressing your experiences and needs as a whole person. Thus, the blending of various holistically minded therapies like clinical and creative therapies gives you the most space to build the treatment plan that will support your OCD recovery in mind, body, and spirit. Access to somatic therapy like SE gives you the tools you need to address both impairments in your physical and psychological well-being.

Therefore, we are committed to providing a holistic and comprehensive approach to addressing your specific needs for OCD recovery. Through holistic care, we can offer a wide range of therapeutic modalities including somatic therapy to support you as an individual. With individualized support, you can work with your clinician to find the right techniques within somatic therapy and other modalities to find the right path toward long-term OCD recovery for you. Seeking support means OCD cannot define you or bar you from building a meaningful and fulfilling life in long-term OCD recovery.

The time-consuming and distressing nature of somatic and psychological symptoms in OCD can impair OCD recovery. Your OCD symptoms can impair your functioning, work and school performance, relationships, and life goals. Moreover, poor mental health literacy and stigma for taboo intrusive thoughts can increase feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt that can impede seeking support. However, with increased awareness and understanding of OCD and holistic treatment options, you can build tools to address your specific experiences and needs for long-term recovery. At The Guest House, we are committed to whole-person care to provide a wide range of therapeutic modalities like somatic experiencing to uncover the roots of your physical and psychological distress. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn more.