Obsessive compulsive disorder is the most common anxiety disorder. At least five million Americans suffer from this disorder, which gives people obsessive thoughts. This week on WRVO’s health and wellness show “Take Care,” hosts Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen, speak with Dr. Robin Zasio, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. Zasio discusses obsessive compulsive disorder, and how its symptoms can affect daily life.
Lorraine Rapp: You know many people are familiar with the term OCD, just because it’s used a lot. For the OCD sufferer, what is their everyday experience like?
Dr. Robin Zasio: Obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD being the acronym, is about people that have obsessive thoughts that they can’t stop. They are unwanted, they are intrusive and they are often times of a bizarre nature. So what happens is, when a person has these thoughts, they do things to try to make them go away. Well in the world of OCD, they come up with these behaviors, rituals or compulsions to try to make them go away. The reality is that we believe that there’s at least five million Americans who are suffering from this condition. OCD is the most common anxiety disorder.
Linda Lowen: What are the compulsions that people focus on? What’s the range that you’ve seen?
Zasio: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting because I’ll get a phone call and someone will say ‘I don’t check the doors and I don’t wash my hands. I have these thoughts of hurting other people. I would never hurt somebody, but for some reason I can’t stop thinking about what if I picked up a knife and stabbed my dog.’ And I’ll say ‘OK, well actually, that’s really common.’ And they’ll go ‘really?’ Because what happens is you don’t either hear about it or read about it. OCD and anxiety disorders can manifest in so many different ways.
Lorraine Rapp: Talking about the range of symptoms that your patients describe, what’s your gut feeling after working with people in your practice? Why do you think this is happening?
Zasio: Well, definitely people can have things that happen to them as a child that can result in OCD. You know, there’s still so much research going on. It’s chemically driven. Somebody who has OCD often times can have what we call ‘good insight.’ They know they don’t need to be afraid of it; all they know is that they are. And all they know is that it feels very real to them, so oftentimes what they know and what they feel are two different things. And so, they engage in these avoidance behaviors or these compulsions to try to neutralize that thought, and as a result their world can just get smaller, and smaller, and smaller because they’re spending their days just in survival mode.
Lorraine Rapp: So if you think there might be an organic imbalance is medication something that would treat this? Or is it just exposure to their fear and overcoming it.
Zasio: Well, again, nothing is that linear. We definitely see that medications can help. If I have somebody who comes into my office with a clear OCD case, and they say ‘look, I’m not on medication, I’d really like to try the exposure therapy process first,’ then I’m going to try it. If you think about anything that you’re afraid of, if you confront it, typically we can overcome it. The proper treatment by an expert and doing exposure therapy oftentimes medication are not needed.
More of this interview can be heard on Take Care, WRVO’s health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.