Innovative OCD and anxiety clinic brings hope

CENTERVILLE ─ Those with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder often feel like they have nowhere to go for help ─ and for good reason, according to Paul Peterson, a Centerville licensed clinical social worker. A lot of therapists misperceive and misunderstand the complexities of OCD and anxiety, he said.

In response, Peterson has created The OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center, which uses exposure therapy and response prevention techniques to help reroute brain neural pathways and change dangerous thinking patterns.

“Exposure therapy entails setting a time frame, or having a beginning and an end to dealing with a particular problem. If an individual’s anxiety is at a certain level, and then they face a fear, their anxiety will eventually come down after a certain amount of moments,” Peterson said.

For now, Peterson uses pen and paper to track his clients’ levels of anxiety when doing exposures, tracking the amount of time it takes from the initial moment of an exposure to the when they feel an anxiety decrease. Within six months, an app that Petersons’ group is planning will launch.

Presenting the brand new, 2,500-year-old treatment for anxiety and depression

Mindfulness is the practice of living in the moment and taking notice of your environment, inner thoughts and feelings without judgment. It’s a concept that has been around for thousands of years and is now being used to combat anxiety.

“The app facilitates their exposures by tracking and reminding them to do them. Clients are reminded by their close friends to email them in the accountability portion of the software to do an exposure. Because it’s just such a tough thing to be having to do already,” he said.

When clients do an exposure, they hit the start button on the app. They register their sub score, or their units of distress score. The timer starts and, after their anxiety goes down 50 percent, they press stop. This method, Peterson noted, is a tangible way to help clients see their progression.

“Last week I had somebody come in who is terrified of parking in parking lots,” Peterson said. “She hasn’t parked in a parking lot in 11 years. She has also gone three years without functioning lightbulbs in her house because she has to go to Home Depot. She is almost non-functioning.

“Our first exposure was taking her to a parking stall and have her park in it. We would have her park in it, and then backward. Then we had her move over to a spot that was five spots over, and her anxiety was up to an eight. We did it again and again until it got lower. It is incredibly rewarding to see just within a short period of time this woman get her life back.”

At the end of the session, the client was not only able to park in a parking lot but could park alongside cars.

Nine clients have gone through the three-week-old program, and four of them are already testing substantially lower on the Yale Brown Obsessive Scale, Peterson said.

Peterson, who has worked several years with anxiety-ridden and OCD clients, said many of them seem to have a genetically inherited vulnerability. Exposure therapy helps a predisposed brain adapt, rewiring neural pathways programmed for unhealthy repetitive behaviors.

However, many therapists don’t treat anxiety and OCD as physiological issues, Peterson said, dealing with the disorder using various cognitive therapy and reality testing ─ temporary solutions to an entrenched problem. While the patient might be soothed during an hour-long visit with a specialist, soon after arriving home the repetitive urge to wash hands for six hours returns with little sign of dissipating.

“There is a physiological issue that is happening in the brain, and it is not something that the clients just need to just try harder with,’ Peterson said. “When people see that there is a physiological issue with someone, such as cancer, there is understanding. But when it comes to the brain people often say try harder ─ have more faith, for example, but the reality is that there is a misfiring in the brain. If someone has diabetes, would you say ‘hey, you need to knock that off — you just need to eat better?’ Yes, they probably need to eat better, but they also probably need to take a medication so that their body can process insulin better.”

Half of teens shy, but for a few it’s more serious

Nearly half of teenagers say they’re shy,
perhaps a bit surprising in our say-anything
society. But a government study finds a small
fraction of those teens show signs of a
troubling anxiety disorder that can be mistaken
for extreme shyness.

Recently, Peterson did a clinical intake with a family that accompanied their brother to offer support during the process. Before leaving, four of six family members, upon recognizing similiar symptoms, expressed interest in participating in the intensive program.

Peterson said this is a common situation. Many people coping with high levels of OCD and anxiety throughout their lives assume this tension is normal.

“Anxiety, however, is something that people should feel every once in awhile,” Peterson said. “If some people hang out at a six on a 0-10 score, or seven, eight or nine all day long, they are dealing with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is actually something that is meant to protect us. So, how are they being protected if their anxiety functioning level is always up? It is doing more harm than good.”

For more information about The OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center, visit its website, or call 801-298-2000. The office is at 386 N. Main in Centerville.


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