incredible-marketing Arrow

Why Is Thought-Stopping Dangerous to OCD?

In the late 1950s, psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Wolpe created the thought-stopping technique to treat intrusive and irrational thoughts in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and phobias. Over time, it was adopted as a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approach for all disorders with distressing thoughts. Later, psychologists found his theory counterintuitive to people with OCD. It directly harms these individuals.

The Theory Behind Thought-Stopping

When a person experiences intrusive and catastrophic thoughts, they’ll often feel distressed and horrified. Therapists may teach their patients thought-stopping techniques to manage this symptom. This technique uses aversive conditioning to rid the brain of disturbing thoughts.

Ideally, by practicing thought-stopping techniques, the patient will begin to associate the thoughts with an unpleasant stimulus. These include:

  • Snapping a rubber band on the wrist
  • Clapping your hand loudly
  • Shouting “stop”
  • Imagining something terrible happening

Theoretically, patients would eventually think the thought less often because they don’t want the negative stimuli.

Why It Harms People With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The International OCD Foundation decries the practice of thought-stopping. The use of thought-stopping on patients with OCD comes from a vast misunderstanding of this mental health condition. Therapists without an OCD specialty may think that ridding the patient of obsessions would fix the issue.

Unfortunately, when a patient with OCD engages in thought-stopping techniques, it enables their compulsive behavior, worsening the overall problem. The best-recognized way to help a patient with OCD is to decrease the distress they feel surrounding their obsession, not rid them of obsessions altogether.

Alternative Techniques

There are many alternative techniques for treating OCD. Let’s look at two options.

#1. Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is a mindfulness practice that involves accepting the presence of a thought or emotion without trying to disrupt, resist, change, or solve it. It can feel uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier to coexist with obsessions with practice. Where many patients go wrong is judging and assigning self-blame. Radical acceptance requires you to give up control.

#2. Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy

A practitioner of exposure and response prevention (EX/RP) helps a patient confront their triggering obsessions. A patient builds a ladder of obsessions/triggers, ranking them from least to most distressing. After creating this list, the patient works with their therapist to develop distress tolerance.

The therapist starts by addressing the least upsetting trigger. They instruct the patient to wait 10 seconds between the obsession and compulsive behavior. Then, they increase to 20 seconds, 40 seconds, one minute, etc. The patient continues until the compulsion no longer feels necessary. Then, the therapist moves on to the next distressing obsession. The process repeats until the whole list has been addressed.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a complicated condition to treat. Previously, mental health professionals used thought-stopping techniques to address the symptoms. Unfortunately, thought-stopping does the opposite of its intended purpose for patients with OCD. It reinforces compulsive behaviors. Instead of this technique, therapists can use treatment methods like radical acceptance and exposure and response prevention to treat their patients with OCD. If you have OCD and want effective, data-supported treatment, The Guest House can help you. We offer inpatient as well as three levels of outpatient treatment. For more information, call (855) 483-7800.