Contamination OCD is considered a subtype of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Obsessions are unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, urges or sensations that occur on a regular basis that you have difficulty getting rid of. If you struggle with contamination OCD, your fears may center around coming into contact with certain substances, germs, engaging in certain behaviors, and/or going somewhere that increases your fears around becoming personally contaminated or contaminating others. The fear of contamination causes extreme anxiety and stress which you may try to manage through engaging in compulsions. Contamination compulsions may consist of excessively washing your hands, brushing your teeth and bathing. It might also consist of avoiding specific persons, places, and foods which may be contaminated.
Contamination OCD may begin to interfere with your life. You may isolate to avoid risk of contamination, and you may spend hours showering or washing your hands making it difficult to go places. You may also seek reassurance on the web by researching whether or not a substance or item is harmful, and ask loved ones whether or not they washed their hands. All of these things may provide temporary relief
Contamination OCD is treatable. We utilize Exposure and Response Prevention which is the gold standard for treating contamination OCD. As much as engaging in compulsions and avoiding your fears may lessen your anxiety in the short term it becomes a vicious cycle and the long term effects drastically begin to affect your life. Treatment involves beginning to interrupt the cycle of OCD so you begin to learn to sit with the discomfort of not engaging in your compulsions and that you’re ok! Changing the behavior response involves the willingness to be exposed to a trigger that evokes anxiety about feared consequences. This process is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). To effectively perform ERP, we compose a list of the compulsive behaviors that you frequently perform in order to avoid, reduce or control your anxiety. We will then rank them from easiest to hardest to stop performing. When we have an initial list, we start work on being able to refrain from performing each of the compulsive behaviors on the list, adjusting the list as treatment progresses. You are in charge of the process the entire time. You get to control what exposures you do and you do them at your pace. Our team will never ask you to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves.
Melissa Mose, LMFT is a graduate of the International OCD Foundation’s Behavioral Therapy Training Institute’s basic and advanced courses. She has had extensive experience treating OCD, starting with her work at the OCD Center of Los Angeles and continuing in her private practice in Calabasas and she presents regularly at the IOCDF Virtual and in person conferences. Melissa Mose and her associates provide highly specialized individual and group therapy for children, teens, and adults with Contamination OCD.
References: 2010 International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), PO Box 961029, Boston, MA 02196, 617.973.5801. https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Contamination-Fact-Sheet.pdf