OCD and Trauma
Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma in relation to OCD
It is prevalent for OCD to originate from the first experience of trauma. Trauma usually happens in one of three ways.
- Acute trauma resulting from a single event
- Chronic trauma is often repeated over a long period, such as domestic violence or abuse.
- Complex trauma usually includes regular exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events. These can often be of an invasive and more personal nature, although not always.
Regardless of the traumatic experiences, the role that OCD plays to protect the person from their trauma makes emotional sense, if not rational. Often when experiencing trauma, the person feels that their environment is becoming increasingly out of control. The distraction that OCD provides, although irrational, is a very effective one. If let’s say a person begins to check their front door multiple times or becomes preoccupied with some meaningless compulsion throughout the day, for every second they are caught up in compulsions, they are distracted from the painful event that is being caused by the trauma.
On a deeper level, a person’s OCD is likely to be made up of compulsions that temporarily make the person feel safer, more in control, and reassured. Not coincidentally, these are often the opposing emotions that the person experiences during their trauma. Although the OCD initially helps the person to experience painful emotions less, in time the compulsions will lead to the experience of more acute anxiety.
What are the causes that lead to the onset of trauma?
Trauma can occur at any age, including childhood, with symptoms typically beginning within 3-4 months of the traumatic event. However, for some, it can take years for symptoms to appear. Although trauma can lead to OCD symptoms, this is not always the case. For this reason, it is thought that genetic and social factors play a crucial role. The perception of the event also appears to be of particular importance. Early diagnosis of trauma and subsequent effective therapy usually leads to the best prognosis. Of course, successful treatment of trauma can lead to the person avoiding the onset of OCD symptoms, if caught early enough.
How common is trauma?
Trauma affects at least 33% of the general population, with the possibility that this number is somewhat higher. The effects of trauma can impact anyone, regardless of sex or age, due to the primary cause of trauma being an external factor within a person’s life.
How Can Our Program Help?
When dealing with both OCD and trauma, the way symptoms often present can feel very overwhelming and confusing for all involved. Although we know that many people respond very well to Psychotherapy for trauma, in our experience, it can be challenging to successfully process symptoms of trauma when OCD is still prevalent in some one’s life.
To successfully manage and overcome trauma, the person needs to explore, reframe, and process the unwanted emotions associated with their painful memories and experiences. A fundamental part of the brain that becomes active in the stages of deep processing when overcoming trauma includes the limbic system, particularly prevalent regarding the processing of emotions. However, the limbic system becomes active during a person’s OCD symptoms, meaning that if this part of the brain is continuously active during day to day life with OCD, then the idea of processing deeper unwanted emotions within that same part of the brain can become somewhat futile. It is for this reason, many professionals recommend that people who experience both trauma and OCD simultaneously often benefit from accessing treatment for OCD first.
The combination of Psychoeducation, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT) and talking therapy, all of which are included in our programs are very effective in the treatment of OCD and Trauma.
Through learning skills, tools, and techniques to manage and overcome your OCD symptoms, your limbic system will become less active during your day to day life. This not only makes the person feel less anxious but also allows for successful trauma therapy to be applied, such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) or in some cases further talking therapy . It is not uncommon that with the successful treatment of OCD symptoms, more deep-seated traumas can also process. Although not always the case, many of our clients that present with trauma (both acute and complex) and OCD recover from both disorders when they learn how to overcome their OCD alone.