Overcoming “Unacceptable” Thoughts: A workshop for Adolescents and their Families

On Saturday, July 19th, 2014 at the IOCDF Conference, five behavior therapists from the Houston OCD Program (Emily Anderson, PhD, Christen Sistrunk, MA, LPC, Naomi Zwecker, PhD, Jennifer Sy, PhD, and Jessica Gerfen, PhD) presented “Overcoming Unacceptable Thoughts” to adolescents and their family members.

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What are “unacceptable” thoughts? Everyone has a strange thought now and then. What we are talking about are unwanted and intrusive thoughts that are violent, sexual, or blasphemous in nature. These thoughts are so disturbing to the adolescent that it causes significant anxiety. Very often these thoughts are a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and, to cope with this anxiety, the person with OCD performs compulsions to neutralize or counteract the obsessional thought.

Who gets these types of thoughts? Adolescents who have “unacceptable” thoughts often believe these thoughts are rare, that they are the only one in the world who has these thoughts. They often think that these thoughts are so strange and horrible that others couldn’t possibly also have similar thoughts. However, 25-40% (or more) of people with OCD have “unacceptable” thoughts. That’s 750,000 to 3.6 million people in the United States.

Why me?! Almost everyone that has these thoughts asks this question at some time or repeatedly. It is important to emphasize that we can’t control our thoughts AND, although these thoughts seem strange and bizarre, these thoughts are normal! However, when adolescents have OCD, there are very often faulty beliefs about “unacceptable” thoughts which may make these thoughts more powerful. For instance, “I am a bad person because I had this thought” (over-importance of thought) or “Because I thought this, I am more likely to act on my thought in the future” (thought action fusion). We also know that doing compulsions, which may help in the short run, has a tendency to increases the power of “unacceptable” thoughts. The adolescent feels compelled to neutralize or do other compulsion to make the thought go away – which actually makes them more powerful.

I have “unacceptable” thoughts and I have OCD. What do I do now? The gold standard treatment for OCD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This includes Exposure and Response Prevention which, put simply, means to face what makes you anxious in a gradual and systematic manner. A trained OCD cognitive-behavioral therapist can help guide you through this process. At the Houston OCD Program, our ultimate goal is to help you overcome your OCD and, in doing that, become your own therapist. We utilize the most effective treatment available today, such as Exposure and Response Prevention, as well as other treatment techniques that have proven to be effective.

If you want more information on this talk please click here for full presentation given by the team at the Houston OCD Program.