Magical Thinking OCD – Symptoms and Treatment
OCD and Magical Thinking
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, refers to a genetic condition that causes individuals to suffer from having intrusive and unwanted thoughts which create distress and result in feeling the need to perform compulsions (repeated behaviors to minimize the anxiety caused by obsessions). OCD can present in many different ways, known as sub-types, and can include what is called magical thinking.
What is Magical Thinking OCD?
Those with OCD feel like they have an expanded sense of responsibility to themselves and others. People with OCD may think they have the power to prevent bad things from happening or from harming themselves or others, or may believe that their thoughts can cause or prevent events from occurring in real life. This is referred to as magical thinking and allows people with OCD to feel safer and in more control, regardless of how illogically or irrationally their thoughts or behaviors are perceived by themselves and others
Common Symptoms of Magical Thinking
Magical thinking within OCD consists of unreasonable and irrational thought patterns that are characterized by connecting actions and events that have no relation whatsoever. This belief creates an intense fear that the individual could have harmed others or will be responsible for harm to others if they do not perform specific compulsive behaviors that their OCD demands. Magic and superstitions can become an alternative way of thinking in order to reinstate feelings of safety and control.
Common Symptoms of Magical Thinking
Individuals who engage in magical thinking have a mentality that causes them to be fearful and preoccupied with ensuring the safety and wellbeing of themselves and others through engaging in certain thoughts or behaviors that become associated with preserving safety.
Common obsessions may include:
- Fears that if they don’t do certain things in a certain way, something bad will happen (fear something bad will happen to themselves or a loved one)
- Superstitious thoughts and an extreme fear of superstitions
- Preoccupation with ‘connecting dots’ from situations in the past to current situations or obsessions
- Certain numbers, colors, words, or actions
Common Compulsions of Magical Thinking OCD
Among the compulsions associated with magical thinking within OCD, those with this type of OCD will:
- Repeat certain words, names, sounds, or numbers
- Trace back steps to undo any potential harm that could be caused to others
- Walk in a certain way to avoid cracks on the floor or sidewalk
- Follow a certain ritualistic pattern repeatedly until anxiety diminishes
- Performing certain compulsive behaviors at particular times of day (i.e., night time or bed time rituals)
- Placing or arranging certain items in a distinct order, or making physical contact with certain items in order to avert harm or create good luck (i.e.,. knocking on wood in an exact pattern or certain number of times)
Treatment for Magical Thinking OCD
People suffering from Magical Thinking OCD are encouraged to seek treatment from a mental health treatment provider that specializes in the treatment of OCD. OCD specialists are equipped and prepared to treat a wide array of OCD subtypes, including Magical Thinking. Like all types of OCD, Magical Thinking can be treated with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), specifically with treatment approaches called Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
Mindful-Based CBT teaches patients that everyone experiences intrusive thoughts. Individuals will also learn that intrusive thoughts have no power over them and that by responding to their thoughts through compulsive behaviors, their thoughts are given more strength and credibility and their fears and obsessions are strengthened and reinforced. Mindfulness-Based CBT is a very effective OCD treatment, especially when combined with ERP.
ERP exposes patients to situations related to their intrusive thoughts that cause them anxiety. The goal of this treatment is for the patient to prevent himself or herself from completing their compulsive behaviors when triggered by intrusive thoughts. The situations that are confronted will intensify over time, until the patient can face and overcome their most feared scenario. Once they are able to stop themselves from responding to their intrusive thoughts with compulsive behaviors, they can experience tremendous relief from the symptoms of OCD.
If patients are suffering from severe levels of anxiety due to their OCD, they may benefit from participating in treatment at an Intensive Outpatient (IOP) OCD treatment program, as is offered by The Gateway Institute. The Gateway Institute offers Intensive Outpatient treatment options as well as regular outpatient psychotherapy sessions, and a free, 30 minute face-to-face consultation with one of our experienced and caring clinicians at all three of our beautiful locations in Orange County, Scottsdale, Arizona, and the San Francisco Bay Area. OCD symptoms typically worsen over time and can take over a person’s life, so it is very important to seek OCD treatment as soon as possible with a skilled and dedicated OCD specialist who can provide expertise and support during this journey.
Other Common Sub-Types of OCD
It is not uncommon for an individual suffering from one OCD sub-type to also suffer from other sub-types. Treating co-occurring sub-types simultaneously is important in finding balance and healing from OCD.
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