Dr. Oz Goes to OCD Camp
He says people suffering from OCD are afraid of uncertainty—like illnesses caused by germs—and retreat to actions or thoughts that they believe will protect them, such as constant cleaning or hand-washing. Their fear of uncertainty is so severe that normal activities become difficult. "You're making stories in your mind to defend why you're not acting," Dr. Oz says.
Dr. Oz says OCD, which affects an estimated one in 40 Americans, is both learned and biological. "Their brains are a little more sensitive to uncertainty, so it makes them more anxious than it makes other people. But the form it takes is learned," he says. "So I could [be] afraid of germs and worry about getting sick, or I could be worried about the thoughts in my head."
Kate is a 33-year-old mother of five from Dallas who is obsessed with cleanliness and terrified of germs. She says she spends up to five hours a day cleaning her already-immaculate house. She arranges items in her house in twos and lines up and trims the fringe on her rugs.
Brian uses his right hand for everything and keeps his left hand in his pocket to protect it from germs. He's terrified of using the bathroom in his house and keeps the bathroom door closed because he doesn't like looking at his toilet. He says he even urinates outside.
Janene is a teacher from Mississippi and mother of twins. She says her OCD takes many forms like hoarding and repeatedly checking locks, switches and knobs. She also says she has major control issues and has trouble letting her kids play outside.
April's OCD fears are about food. Because she won't eat or drink anything she thinks could be contaminated or poisoned, she has lost 30 pounds. "I basically quit eating," she says.
To help these four, along with two other sufferers, Corbin and Kathy, overcome OCD, Dr. Oz arranges for a group session of "OCD Boot Camp" with Dr. Jonathan Grayson at a YMCA camp outside Philadelphia. Dr. Grayson is a leading expert who uses a groundbreaking therapy called "exposure and response prevention." In this therapy—which is recommended by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association—patients confront their biggest fears head-on. "They have to confront the possibility of their worst things occurring because there is no other life," he says.
After initially hesitating, everyone joins in. Janene says her issues with personal space make this terribly difficult. "To be in a group hug with strangers was a big deal for me," she says.
Even as he joined in, Brian kept his left hand clenched, trying to protect it from germs. "I don't know these people, and they've all got their hands on me," he says. "I'm not used to being touched a lot."
"Dirty world" gets even dirtier when Dr. Grayson makes everyone stomp on their brand new bed linens and towels with their filthy shoes.
Dr. Grayson says the reason he has his therapy patients do these disgusting things is because it's truly not a big deal. "Normally, people say, 'I would never touch a floor and eat.' But I bet many people chew on pens, and their pens have touched the floor," he says. "How many times do you actually wash your hands before you give your kid a snack? There are all these times when people without OCD do this, but they don't realize. In a way, consistency is the measure of severity. When [people with OCD] have a problem, they always know."
Dr. Oz says living with OCD is the exact opposite of living in the moment. "When you have OCD, you're so caught up in your own thoughts about why life's not 100 percent the way it has to be that it traps you," he says. "If you can understand how to live life by embracing your biggest fears and turning those fears into your power source to let go of them, to make peace with the world as it is around you and to realize you're not your thoughts ... that's one of the biggest lessons. All of us here have that same challenge."
Brian says this suggestion makes him feel like he's paralyzed with fear. Dr. Oz says he's ready to catch Brian if he passes out. "I may have made a huge mistake," Brian says. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to handle this."
In solidarity, Dr. Oz and Dr. Grayson do it too. "It's vitally important to support Brian and show him I can do this too and not die," Dr. Oz says.
At the moment of truth, Brian confronts his fear and sits on the toilet seat. "I hated it. I've lost a lot of things from OCD. I've lost a marriage, a nice house, a couple good jobs," he says. "Just to get back the ability to be able to go into the bathroom is a big step for me."
Dr. Grayson says while his treatment for Brian may look akin to torture, it really isn't. He also emphasizes that he did not force Brian to do something he didn't want to do. "The art of therapy is talking them into it and helping convince them and support them. Convincing them they're ready to be terrified," he says. "Partially, it's reminding them ... what their life has been like. In the moment of confronting fear, the fear becomes overriding, and you forget all that you've lost. You also forget that the worst thing about [obsessive-compulsive rituals] is they don't work. It doesn't protect you from germs."
Dr. Grayson comes up with a simple but powerful challenge. "What can we screw up that you like perfect?" he asks.
Janene says she doesn't like other people touching her things...so Dr. Grayson asks people from the group to rummage through her bags.
"Don't do that," Janene says. "Will I get it back?"
"You just have to tell me whether you love things more than your children," he says.
"I love my children more," Janene says. She lets April touch the things in her bags.
She doesn't want to go near it, but Dr. Grayson asks Kathy to step up and look. When she approaches, she begins saying the rituals she uses to "protect" people she loves. Dr. Grayson recognizes what she's doing and asks her to stop.
Kathy says she's nervous about that. "I feel I'm putting a lot of trust into Dr. Grayson," she says. "I'm just hoping that what he's saying is right."
"For the average person, after doing what we just saw, that would make you a little uncomfortable," Dr. Oz says. "If it's an OCD person, you're tortured."
April has the most difficult time keeping her food and drink down. For years, she says she's had trouble eating because she's always afraid that her food is poisoned. When she sees the pizza boxes in the dining hall, she says she wants to run out of the room. "I thought I was going to die," she says.
Finally, she confronts her fear head-on by swallowing some soda someone else poured. The first drink is difficult, but for April, the worst is yet to come. "It's not over yet because it's in me," she says. "Now the fear is coming of what's going to happen now."
After a few panicked moments, April manages to keep her drink down, but she isn't the only one struggling. Dr. Oz says Kate barely touches her pizza. She admits her diet usually consists of nothing but ice cream and coffee. "I believe that the coffee and ice cream are safe foods that don't have contamination a lot of the time," she says.
Dr. Grayson tries to calm April down and help her fight the urge to throw up. "You have to hate the OCD more than you fear it," he says. "Fear is this monster. When you run, it likes to run after you."
To help her put things in perspective, Dr. Grayson asks her to imagine that she only has 20 minutes to live.
Dr. Grayson: What do you want to say?
April: I love my kids and my grandkids and my husband. I'm sorry what I put them through, and I just love my kids so much.
Dr. Grayson: If you don't throw up right now, that's for them. They get to see you fighting the fear for them, and you get to be free.
April: I want to be free.
Dr. Oz and Dr. Grayson walk with April for more than half a mile while she battles the desperate urge to vomit. In the end, her compulsions are too overwhelming.
"How would you feel if I gave you a poisoned pill, and you were afraid that you had 20 minutes or so before it gets you? ... If I'm pretty sure I'm going to die in 20 minutes, I think I'd want to throw up," Dr. Grayson says. "Think of how many things we do just in case. New mothers, they check their babies before they go to bed. The baby's going to be fine, but we do it just in case, even though we're going to go to sleep afterward. Who knows what happens then."
Dr. Oz says mental anguish can also make someone like April feel physically ill. "The intestinal system has as many nerves as your spine does," he says. "When you get sick emotionally, you get sick viscerally in your gut, as well. That's why you get nervous and you vomit sometimes."
Looking back, April says she believes her nausea was brought on by her imagination. "[I thought] I swallowed something that was getting me sick," she says. "I wanted to throw up because I wanted to feel better."
"I think when people are really tired and exhausted, it does break down their defenses in a way where they'll open up," Dr. Grayson says.
Finally, they arrive at an alley where a revolting obstacle awaits them. What's worse than dirty floors and public toilets? A city trash bin. Kate describes the stench emitting from the garbage as a mix of vomit, old food and cat feces. And Dr. Grayson wants his six patients to touch the inside and then lick their fingers!
The sight of the bin makes Brian visibly ill. "Brian can barely look inside the garbage can," Dr. Oz says. "I can't say I blame him. It's absolutely revolting."
Watch them take Dr. Grayson's trash bin challenge.
To show his patients there's nothing to fear, Dr. Grayson steps up to the can and places his palms against the gritty surface. Then, he wipes his hands on his clothes and face and licks his fingers.
Brian's not ready to face his fears, so Kate approaches the trash bin first. She follows Dr. Grayson's lead and puts her hands inside. Then, she passes the test by touching her fingertips to her tongue. "That is just the most disgusting thing," she says. "I am completely repulsed."
When it's finally Brian's turn, he starts slowly by tapping his fingers against the side of the garbage can. Dr. Grayson coaxes him along by reminding him how OCD has affected his life. "You've been through hell for a whole lot of years. You've lost all of the things that are dear to you," he says. "I really want you to try to think about those things."
After some hesitation, Brian's hands make full contact. He completes the challenge by putting his hands in his mouth. "I actually felt like I could almost faint when I had to put my hands in there," he says. "I just was trying to block out what was going on and what was in there. I still can't shake it. I feel disgusting."
Though most people don't go around sticking their hands in dirty trash bins, Dr. Grayson says the challenge he gave his patients isn't far removed from everyday scenarios.
"How many people put trash in a Dumpster or in a trash can, start driving to work and put their hands in their mouth or go and eat?" he says. "People without OCD do these things without thought."
When Dr. Grayson asks Kate if she ever cries, she admits she usually tries to be the strong one. "Do you know when most people decide to cry?" he says. "When they feel safe. When it's safe enough to let everything drop."
As tears stream down her cheeks, Kate opens up about how she really feels inside. "I'm a person who goes through the moves of a living person, but there's no passion behind it," she says. By revealing her true self, Kate says she was able to let go of the need to be perfect.
The challenges of the weekend also help Janene come to an important realization. She says she thinks her life with OCD began when her twin sister died from cerebral palsy at 8 years old. "I'd never experienced death before, and that's when I started to feel lost," she says. "I probably always had OCD...but that's when it triggered it because I thought I caused it. That was 23 years ago, but it hurts me like it happened yesterday."
Janene says something Corbin, another OCD patient, said helped her start the healing process. "[Corbin] said, 'Maybe she died so I could live,'" she says. "I used to think this was my punishment. ... I always felt so guilty that I was the healthy one, but now I realize because she sacrificed for me, I have to beat the OCD so I can live life for the both of us."
To put it simply, every positive thought Corbin has becomes connected to a negative thought. "From that point on, when I think about that positive thought, I'm also going to think about that negative thought," he says. "Everything that I do, I try to keep in this completely perfect, purified kind of environment."
Corbin compares himself to a bride planning her wedding day. "If you were a bride-to-be, and the closer you got to that wedding, you'd want to make sure that the catering was going to be perfect and the flowers were going to be perfect," he says. "The stress of that for the bride may only happen once in a lifetime. For me, that moment, that intensity of that moment, could happen every five minutes."
Dr. Oz says patients like Corbin benefit from being around others battling OCD. "What really impressed me was how they healed each other," he says. "They understood each other so much better than I could even begin to imagine these problems. That's what being human is all about."
See April, Brian and Kate's amazing progress.
Free from his obsession with germs and toilets, Brian says he feels like he's getting a new lease on life. "My hand's out of my pocket, and I'm touching my hands together—things that I just don't do. I haven't clapped my hands for so long. It's amazing," he says. "I want to just rub my hands in the dirt and go do all these great things. It feels great."
Kate says she's excited to go home and start doing things differently as a mom. Instead of spending all day cleaning, she says she wants to take her children out for ice cream and not have to worry about germs...and that's exactly what she did!
When Kate returned home, she says she and her husband took all five of their children to an ice cream parlor for a special treat. "They just went at it. My daughter was completely covered in chocolate," she says. "There were just splatters all over the tables. It was just a mess, and I just let them be a mess. [When] we left, I didn't push in the chairs. I didn't clean up afterward. I just let everything be, and I have never done that before. It was amazing."
Dr. Grayson reminds the six patients that there is no quick fix with OCD. The six men and women on Oprah's stage will have to continue working out their fears for years to come.
Dr. Oz says another key to overcoming OCD is surrender. "It's about not being attached. I think [the patients] taught us a way of getting through a problem that a lot of us still have," he says. "We may not have it as extremely as you have it, but we all hold onto visions and then we begin to not live in the moment."
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