I Have OCD/

I Have OCD

I Have OCD

Posted on: June 1st, 2012 by sparky11 21 Comments

Credit to Richard Bandler, most of the following I learned pretty much directly from him.

And if only all interventions were as fast as this one turned out to be…

Several years ago a man came to see me. He had been suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for about half his life, in his case, about 17 years or so. When he was school, in the last year or so, he had developed some obsessive tendencies, nothing too overwhelming, as far as I could tell. However, the school got in touch with his parents and his parents booked an appointment with a top psychiatrist. There he sat with his parents, a nervous teenager, in the oak-panelled Harley Street consulting room of this psychiatrist and he was given the following verdict by the doctor…

‘I have spoken to your school, I have spoken to your parents and now I have had the chance to talk to you personally,’ he intoned, ‘ and I can say that without a shadow of a doubt, you have obsessive compulsive disorder…’

What chance did the man have…

So from that day forward, armed with the knowledge and certainty and that he had this problem, he became very good at OCD indeed. His obsessive behaviour had ‘morphed’ over the years, and he had finally settled into the habit of cleaning his kitchen for two or three hours before he went to work in the morning. And this was a kitchen always scrubbed so clean that open heart surgery would probably have been safe there anytime…

Contamination OCD

This is one of the most common ways people do OCD. For whatever reason, they have developed a huge overwhelming fear of contamination or disease, and that fear is so overwhelming it overrides any attempt at logical thinking. So a person who has developed this sort of thinking/feeling/behaviour pattern will find themselves seemingly driven to take some action to try to stop having the horrible feelings. This can be a big bad habit. And incidentally this has nothing to do with intelligence, in fact the guy who walked into my office that morning was a very successful lawyer…

‘What do you want?’

That’s what I asked him, after a minute or two chatting about his journey and the weather etc. I always like to get to the point.

Now if you are actually in this business you will know full well that no-one ever answers that question literally. They think they are answering you, but they aren’t. The answer you get will be either a description of their issue or a mass of information which is entirely opposite from the information you asked for.

They will tell you what they don’t want. Now this is totally reasonable from where the client is coming from. After all, they want you to understand why they are there, the nature of their issue, and if you let them, they will sometimes go into a long description of the history of their issue. I don’t usually let them, it doesn’t usually help, in my experience.

In fact I have to repeat the question, several times, before they can begin to understand what I am aiming at. And this all has to be done lightly, or it will begin to sound like a gestapo interview. And this is just the beginning…

‘I have OCD’

That’s what he said, plain and simple. So I was about to repeat the ‘so what do you want’ question, but I reconsidered. If someone is suffering from obsessive compulsive patterns they are often a bit tense, to say the least. But this guy, although quite tense, didn’t seem overly so, so I tried something else…

‘No, you don’t have OCD’

I said that to him and raised my eyebrows. He looked puzzled, understandably.

‘Yes I do,’ he insisted, ‘I have OCD, I am sure of it.’

‘So you have three letters of the alphabet,’ I said. It is important to note that the tone of the conversation was light-hearted, if it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have been doing this.

‘You know what I mean,’ he continued, half laughing, ‘I have OCD, the abbreviation for obsessive compulsive disorder’.

‘No-one has OCD’, I said, flatly, and he began to look puzzled, though he was still smiling.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘you have a page on your website that says that you deal with people who have OCD, I’ve read it’. He had a point there. Mind you, if the page had said ‘you don’t have OCD please call now for help’, on-one would…

‘Listen,’ I said, ‘if you have OCD tell me where you keep it. In your pocket? In a cupboard in the kitchen next to the cleaning stuff? In a special place in the left hand side of your head or something?’

He was laughing now, ‘well obviously I don’t actually have OCD,’ he said. And then he stopped, and began to look totally bewildered and started swaying in his chair. If he hadn’t been sitting down I think he might have fallen over.

‘That’s right you don’t have OCD and you never did,’ I continued. ‘You can have a banana, you can have the complete works of Shakespeare, or you can have a nice holiday home. OCD isn’t something you can have, it’s obvious, now you think about it.

OCD is something a person DOES not something a person HAS

‘Obsessive compulsive disorder is something you have been doing not something you had, I told him, ‘a person can think  ‘obsessively’ about something, a person can act ‘compulsively’ at times, but that’s it, you don’t have OCD and you never had OCD, do you see what I mean? Do you hear what I am saying?’

I stopped and let him process this for a couple of minutes. Eventually he looked up and in a slow-motion voice said,


‘Well I don’t think so,’ I continued, ‘unless you think that maybe you are haunted by the demon of OCD, and as it happens I do have a bell, a book and a candle in the room, and I find a little light exorcise can often be illuminating.’

And I stopped and waited, and it was like the dawn slowly rising in his face and this sparkly light came into his eyes (at least that’s how I remember it), and he grinned.

Sitting in the beans

‘So,’ he said, leaning back with his hands behind his head, radiating confidence, ‘nothing is making me do this, so nothing is stopping from going home now, pouring baked beans all over the kitchen floor, sitting in them, cleaning up a bit, and going down the pub for a drink.’

‘That’s right,’ I replied, ‘though you may need to change your trousers first…’

And he stood up to leave but I didn’t let him, at first. I pointed out that he had had just fifteen minutes of a two hour session and that there were more things that could be done to ‘help make these old obsessive things truly a thing of the past’. He said he was happy to pay for the two hours and I told him that wasn’t the point. He told me he REALLY wanted to go and do this, so I argued light-heartedly with him for a while as this was building the desire to go out there and play, and after fifteen more minutes he left the office with a spring in his step.

I didn’t speak to him again though I got two voicemails from him and an email several months later. The first voicemail went something like this


I remember thinking that it was just as well he wasn’t leaving that voicemail for a psychiatrist.

In the second voicemail, a couple of days later, he explained that it had only taken him 22 minutes to clean the kitchen after the bean-fest, and that that morning it had only taken him 16.5 minutes. OK, a little bit exact but, hey, 16.5 minutes is better than 3 hours… Then a few months later an email telling me he was quite ok and that he was going to refer someone to me.

If only it was always this easy

This client was the exception rather than the rule, I wish I could help people this fast all time. Usually the above is just one piece from a range of interventions designed to help the client to stop being obsessive, to build more flexibility into their thinking. It can be an important piece though.

Denominalisation – an approach that can often pay dividends

I am aware that this may well be read by a whole variety of people, from NLP practitioners and trainers and hypnotherapists and other therapists, through to individuals ‘suffering from OCD’, or people who know people who have been doing OCD etc, so I am avoiding jargon as much as possible, though really there isn’t much jargon is this field.

A nominalisation is a verb that has been turned into a noun, or an action that has been turned into a ‘thing’. When you work to denominalise, you are working to change the noun back into a verb, the thing back into the action, so to speak.

For example, if someone comes to see me and they tell me they have problems with their relationship (noun) with their husband, I will say something like, ‘in what way have you been experiencing problems with the way you are have been relating (verb) to your husband’. Because, after all, you may well be able to help someone to change the way they have been doing something (relating) but how on earth can you change someone’s ‘relationship’ when such a ‘thing does not literally exist?’

On one level this may seem to be just playing with words, but in my experience it can be a useful game to play…

Steve Tromans

Tel: +44 (0)7900 240192
Email: steve@selfhelprecordings.com
1 Harley Street London W1G 9QD

Visit the main page on OCD here – Help For OCD

Barbara Stepp in Chicago has recently put a short useful video on how to cure OCD – here – Cure For OCD

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Please feel free to make comments and or ask questions.

21 Responses

  1. Nick Kemp says:

    another well considered post, well written and with good observations.

  2. The English Sisters says:

    It’s important to notice and get curious about the difference between having something that you have been labelled with and doing or experiencing that behavior! Excellent work and an excellent read, food for thought indeed!
    The English Sisters

  3. Pam Castillo says:

    Last year I began to not be sure that I locked my car when leaving it. That was a really new thing for me that I noted, and I got curious as to what was different. I began to compare the times in the past when I locked my car and was sure of it with n0 doubt to when I had doubt. I watched a movie-like scenario with me in the picture shutting off my car, getting out, and all the rest of the sequence and there it was!!! I *Looked* at my car as I pressed the key fob lock and watched its lights blink and listened to the sound of the beep. As I compared that movie-like scenario to what I was actually doing, there was a big difference. I was no long *Looking* at the lights blink because I had gotten more busy in my morning routine and simply not taken the time to run the strategy that had always made me Sure in the past. Realizing this, I then knew how to make a simple adjustment and watch the lights blink as I passed the car. VOILA! I was Sure again, every time! No doubts, no second guessing, go going back to check. Now, that was not full on OCD but had I allowed that to continue and talk about it and listen to others tell me how they have OCD and that’s what they do….well…..
    I’m often asked; “Do trainers do NLP with themselves?” You bet. All the time. There’s a way to have the behavior you want, and you can create it in pretty short order and have fun along the way to get the results you want.

    • Good to be able to notice what is going on and take appropriate action. Sometimes with ‘repetative ocd’ I get the person to deliberately repeat the pattern way more than they usually have. For example, if someone has to keep going back to check the taps (faucets) are off, maybe five or six times each time, I get them to go back and check 500 times, on purpose. Very often the person, after say 30 or 40 repetitions, begins to really get pissed off with the process of doing this. And at the same time as this, they tend to get a stronger and stronger feeling of ‘KNOWING’ the taps are off. This can blow the old compulsion. Just another small piece that can make a difference…

  4. Menachem Schloss says:

    Fantastic post. I personally enjoy working with OCD cases, these people tend to be so brilliantly creative IMO. I had this particular client recently with very obsessive thoughts about hell and the devil…it was a very interesting session….

    • Thanks Menachem, yes I like dealing with OCD too. What did you do with the guy who had obsessive thoughts about the devil and hell?

      • Menachem Schloss says:

        Okay. So regarding the client with obsessive thought about hell and the devil, it was rather tricky.
        See, this guy was already getting treated by a “top” Psychiatrist who was attempting to offer this client his form of therapy by telling him that these thoughts were his enemy and that he should tell these thoughts to go away. (in his mind he had to see the Psychiatrist and keep taking meds, since he was suffering from mental illness for many years, plus the belief that he was mentally ill was embedded since he was a child )
        And I was not planning to spend sessions arguing with him.

        I asked the client how he was doing with the Psychiatrist’s prescribed course of treatment and he said that he was finding it difficult to get the thoughts (internal dialogue) to stop or go away.
        I said that i could possibly offer him a technique to help him with that….
        It seemed that he had these 2 sentences that he would tell himself in his mind in a very harsh kind of voice that would bring about those terrifying images.
        Through the session…
        I spoke to him about the idea of creative imaginations etc… and how useful it may have been if he was in showbiz etc…

        Then I wondered aloud whether he appreciated any form of comedy. He said that he was a major fan of Chris Rock. Which then lead to him telling me a couple of Chris Rock jokes, lightening the experience, laughing around etc…,

        At some point I wondered if he would have ever considered what it would have sounded like if Chris Rock had said those 2 sentences in his funny kind of way?
        he thought about it, played it over in his mind and then started to smile…and laugh..

        Then I told him that I am not suggesting anything other than, that this may also be an interesting way to proceed with his fight, using his creative imagination…
        He liked the idea. We finished off the session..
        A couple of hours later, after I’d finished work, as i was going by in the car, I caught sight of him sitting on a park bench…still smiling.
        (Note, this was a guy who was very serious about his issue and had been in a real state about it for quite sometime.
        I don’t think I cured him, I also don’t really know since he never came back.) But it definitely allowed him another perspective that he hadn’t thought of before.

        • Well you may not have totally ‘cured’ him but my guess is that what you did may have made a really big difference.

          • Menachem Schloss says:

            I hope so.
            It’s not always easy to work along side these people in the white coats…they take things way too seriously..
            What is your experience of working along side them? or don’t you?

          • I dont tend to work alongside doctors, only occasionally. I get quite a lot of referrals privately from doctors though. The person who has done most in that field is Garner Thomson. His book, Magic In Practice is a must read, I think it is the best book on NLP I have read.

        • Steve Andreas says:

          Well done! I think you probably cured him. I have several examples like this in my new book, Transforming Negative Self-talk coming out in late July from Norton–as well as quite a number of other interventions that target the nonverbal qualities of internal self-talk that are quite effective.

  5. Paul Wright says:

    Hi Steve,

    I agree totally and a brilliant example of how the human brain works literally. I often tell my clients, “There is a big difference between who you are and what you do. People don’t need to change who they are, they just need to behave differently in certain situations.”

    Ultimately the only person that decides how you behave in any situation is you. So it’s not the baked beans, the mess, or whatever you thought was making you feel bad it’s HOW you perceived / thought about the situation that was causing you to feel bad. Change how you think about / perceive the situation and you also get to change how you feel.

  6. Amanda Williamson says:

    Really good post on the limiting of choice by labeling. Sounds like a great piece of work, and I appreciate your honesty with regards to this being the exception to the norm.

  7. Denis Niblett says:

    Another great post Steve! Amongst other things it demonstrates once more the power of the words we use and the enormous effects obtained by changing just one or two of them.

  8. Mike M says:

    Hi Steve,

    Very interesting blog and I am amazed at how fast that man was cured. I am currently suffering from OCD for almost 14 years now and it is not getting any better. My wife and I really want me to be “fixed” and stop these annoying time consuming habits. I often recognize that I am performing these rituals but am unable to stop them. I do not suffer from germs or contamination but more with checking car doors, repeating words a few times, counting, inability to concentrate and other rituals such as always having items in order and the exact same spot. All these things take up tremendous amounts of my time to the point of significantly affecting my work life, I had to leave my job and only like to work for myself. My wife is very patient with me but I hate that I do all these things and just want to have a normal life with her. I have seen a top Psychiatrist in Toronto who has yet to give me set appointments let alone return my calls for months, very unproffesional. My doctor prescribed me Citalipram which I have been on for 3 months at 30mg sometimes 40mg and no luck. I am intrigued by NLP and Hypnosis and wonder if it would work for me. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and would love to hear from you

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