New research appears to confirm what cognitive behavioral therapists have emphasized, that compulsive behavior is the monumental force in people with obsessive compulsive patterns. A recent study examined the behaviors of 40 test subjects in a task that involved habitual behaviors and outcomes. The participants, half of whom had obsessive-compulsive tendencies, were able to win points based on their response to various stimuli. The researchers, led by Claire Gillan and Trevor Robbins at the University of Cambridge MRC/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute and Sanne de Wit at the University of Amsterdam, discovered that the participants with obsessions and compulsions displayed habitual behavior, continuing to engage in the behavior regardless of whether it resulted in a negative or positive outcomes. Because this habitual or compulsive behavior was developed and assessed in a laboratory setting, without any correlating obsessions, researchers are led to believe that the compulsion is the main component of obsessive-compulsive behavior.
This research gives clues as to how the compulsions develop and suggest that the obsessive thoughts are the mind’s response to the compulsive behaviors. These findings could allow for more targeted interventions and better treatment options for this mental health challenge. Ultimately, therapists and clients find that the behavior is not related to the thought, and when the behavior is stopped, the obsessive thoughts go away. “It has long been established that humans have a tendency to ‘fill in the gaps’ when it comes to behavior that cannot otherwise be logically explained,” said Gillan. “In the case of OCD, the overwhelming urge to senselessly repeat a behavior might be enough to instill a very real obsessive fear in order to explain it.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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