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Dealing With Compulsive Disorders

Feb 7, 2008
A definition of what compulsion means is usually worded in the following kind of way: A psychological and usually irrational force that makes somebody do something, often unwillingly.

These "irrational forces" are, in the case of compulsive disorders, caused by repetitive thoughts, or mental activity. This is an important factor in understanding and beginning to alter the way that the person with the compulsion represents the problem to themselves. By understanding that the irrational force is caused by the persons own thoughts and activities, we begin to move the problem away from some outside force that is making them do something, and towards understanding that the problem is something that is caused by themselves. They may not yet feel as if they are in control of their own thoughts because they have got into such an automatic pattern with their thinking that it is occurring as if they have no control of it. And it absolutely will feel that way. After all, whose thoughts are they? In whose head? Whose mind is that? Who is the only one listening to those thought? If there is no one else in your head, they must be your own thoughts! And this is a great thing to acknowledge because it means that accepting responsibility for those thought puts the "thinker" back in control so that they have a much greater potential to create changes.

The first thing I would explore with a compulsive client is what Complex Equivalence exists in their mind about this problem. What does this problem mean? What is it trying to achieve? What does it allow them to do? What do they believe would happen if they stopped this behaviour? Quite often fear is a big driver of the compulsive behaviour, and frequently the fear exists to keep the person safe. When you know what this problem means, its truth and validity can be explored. Quite often there is no logical link between the behaviour / thoughts and the "reasons" why it is occurring. For example, one lady I met felt compelled to check the locks on her car (to the degree that she had to have new ones fitted every 6 months) and her greatest fear was linked to the safety of her father after he had nearly died. The was no obvious link between her father's incident and the repeated behaviour of locking her car. Knowing this didn't make the problem stop, but it did encourage her to question the validity of the problem which had felt like a very solid problem before she had thought about it in this way.

The next step can be taken if you believe that the client's problem may be related to a significant emotional event. A values elicitation can be very worthwhile for discovering what "away from" values exist in their values hierarchy and can help uncover SEE's that the client might not have consciously realised were still having a negative impact.

As well as, or instead of this, I would use the fast phobia technique. The fast phobia technique doesn't have to be restricted to phobias only. It is a process which is very useful at desensitising the negative emotions that occur when trigger by stimuli so that the person can be around the stimuli without feeling negative emotions. This means there is the opportunity to be around things that used to make them feel a compulsion and no longer feel it.

The compulsion blowout method can be used to demolish the submodalities associated to the stimuli. Submodalities are the codes that we use to make meaning of our experiences and memories. When these are adjusted, the memory / experience will no longer work in the same way as it did in the past.

There is of course a lot of room for manouver, as a therapist I am flexible in my approach and will adjust techniques that I already know if I think there is a way of having them work in a more appropriate way for that specific client. Other techniques I have used have included advising the client that they can do as much as they like of one compulsion, but have to trade off another. This works really well for multiple compulsions as the list slowly whittles down until there is just one compulsion to deal with. By this time they have also built up confidence in their own abilities.

A friend once told me that he felt compulsed to run indoors whenever a helicopter flew overhead. He was not too sure where this fear had come from or why. One day he was picnic in a large open field with his girlfriend. A helicopter flew overhead and there was nowhere to run to. His fear occurred and he had to sit through it, and as a result of doing so realised that actually he was o.k. His fear was pushed beyond its threshold and as a result ceased to exist in that context any longer.

Obviously the best course of therapy may not be to use the "going beyond the threshold" technique but it is certainly a good idea to test the reaction to the stimuli once some work has been done so that the client is able to confirm their level of improvement.
About the Author
Gemma Bailey is a hypnotherapist, NLP Master practitioner and Life Coach based in Markyate, St Albans. Visit http://www.gemmabailey.co.uk for more information.
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