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Your Anxiety Toolkit - Anxiety & OCD Strategies for Everyday

Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast delivers effective, compassionate, & science-based tools for anyone with Anxiety, OCD, Panic, and Depression.
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Now displaying: March, 2023
Mar 31, 2023

You guys, I am literally giggling with excitement over what we are about to do together. 

Last year, we did a series, the first series on Your Anxiety Toolkit where we talked about mental compulsions. It was a six-part series. We had some of the best therapists and best doctors in the world talking about mental compulsions. It was such a hit. So many people got so much benefit out of it. I loved it so much, and I thought that was fun, let’s get back to regular programming. But for the entire of last year after that series, it kept bugging me that I needed to do a series on sexual health and anxiety. It seems like we’re not talking about it enough. It seems like everyone has questions, even people on social media. The algorithm actually works against those who are trying to educate people around sex and sexual side effects and arousal and how anxiety impacts it. And so here I am. No one can stop us. Let’s do it. 



This is going to be a six-part sexual health and anxiety series, and today we have a return guest, the amazing Lauren Fogel Mersy. She is the best. She is a sex therapist. She talks all about amazing stuff around sexual desire, sexual arousal, sexual anxiety. She’s going to share with you, she has a book coming out, but she is going to kick this series off talking about sexual anxiety, or we actually also compare and contrast sexual performance anxiety because that tends to better explain what some of the people’s symptoms are. 

Once we go through this episode, we’re then going to meet me next week where I’m going to go back over. I’ve done an episode on it before, but we’re going to go back over understanding arousal and anxiety. And then we’re going to have some amazing doctors talking about medications and sexual side effects. We have an episode on sexual intrusive thoughts. We have an episode on premenstrual anxiety. We also have an episode on menopause and anxiety. My hope is that we can drop down into the topics that aren’t being covered enough so that you feel like you’ve got one series, a place to go that will help you with the many ways in which anxiety can impact us when it comes to our sexual health, our sexual arousal, our sexual intimacy. I am so, so, so excited. Let’s get straight to it. 

This is Episode 1 of the Sexual Health and Anxiety Series with Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy. Lauren is a licensed psychologist. She’s a certified sex therapist, she’s an author, and she is going to share with us and we’re going to talk in-depth about sexual anxiety. I hope you enjoy the show. I hope you enjoy all of the episodes in this series. I cannot wait to listen to these amazing speakers—Lauren, being the first one. Thank you, Lauren.

330 Sexual Anxiety With Lauren Fogel Mersy

What Is Sexual Anxiety Or Sexual Performance Anxiety? Are They The Same Thing?

Kimberley: Welcome. I am so happy to have you back, Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy. Welcome.

Dr. Lauren: Thank you so much for having me back. I’m glad to be here.

Kimberley: I really wanted to deep dive with you. We’ve already done an episode together. I’m such a joy to have you on. For those of you who want to go back, it’s Episode 140 and we really talked there about how anxiety impacts sex. I think that that is really the big conversation. Today, I wanted to deep dive a little deeper into talking specifically about sexual anxiety, or as I did a little bit of research, what some people call sexual performance anxiety. My first question for you is, what is sexual anxiety or what is sexual performance anxiety? Are they the same thing or are they a little different?

Dr. Lauren: I think people will use those words interchangeably. It’s funny, as you say that, I think that performance anxiety, that word ‘performance’ in particular, I hear that more among men than I do among women. I think that that might be attributed to so many people’s definition of sex is penetration. In order for penetration to be possible, if there’s a partner who has a penis involved that that requires an erection. I often hear that word ‘performance’ attributed to essentially erection anxiety or something to do with, will the erection stay? Will it last? Basically, will penetration be possible and work out? I think I often hear it attributed to that. And then sexual anxiety is a maybe broader term for a whole host of things, I would say, beyond just erection anxiety, which can involve anxiety about being penetrated. It could be anxiety about certain sexual acts like oral sex giving, receiving. It could be about whether your body will respond in the way that you want and hope it to. I think that word, sexual anxiety, that phrasing can encompass a lot of different things.

WHAT ARE SOME SEXUAL ANXIETY SYMPTOMS?

Kimberley: Yeah. I always think of it as, for me, when I talk with my patients about the anticipatory anxiety of sex as well. Like you said, what’s going to happen? Will I orgasm? Will I not? Will they like my body? Will they not? I think that it can be so broad. I love how you define that, how they can be different. That performance piece I think is really important. You spoke to it just a little, but I’d like to go a little deeper. What are some symptoms of sexual anxiety that a man or a woman may experience? 

Dr. Lauren: I think this can be many different things. For some people, it’s the inability to get aroused, which sifting through the many things that can contribute to that, knowing maybe that I’m getting into my head and that’s what’s maybe tripping me up and making it difficult to get aroused. It could be a racing heartbeat as you’re starting to get close to your partner, knowing that sex may be on the table. I’ve had some people describe it can get as severe as getting nauseated, feeling like you might be sick because you’re so worked up over the experience. Some of that maybe comes from trauma or negative experiences from the past, or some of it could be around a first experience with a partner really hoping and wanting it to go well. Sometimes we can get really nervous and those nerves can come out in our bodies, and then they can also manifest in all of the thoughts that we have in the moment, really getting distracted and not being able to focus and just be present. It can look like a lot of different things.

SEXUAL AVOIDANCE

Kimberley: That’s so interesting to hear in terms of how it impacts and shows up. What about people who avoid sex entirely because of that? I’m guessing for me, I’m often hearing about people who are avoiding. I’m guessing for you, people are coming for the same reason. You’re a sex therapist. How does that show up in your practice?

Dr. Lauren: One of the things that can cause avoidance-- there’s actually an avoidance cycle that people can experience either on their own or within a partnership, and that avoidance is a way of managing anxiety or managing the distress that can come with challenging sexual experiences and trying to either protect ourselves or protect our relationships from having those outcomes as a possibility. There used to be a diagnosis called sexual aversion. It was called a sexual aversion disorder. We don’t have that in our language anymore. We don’t use that disorder because I think it’s a really protective, sensible thing that we might do at times when we get overwhelmed or when we’re outside of what we call a window of tolerance. It can show up as complete avoidance of sexual activity. It could show up as recoiling from physical touch as a way to not indicate a desire for that to progress any further. It could be avoidance of dating because you don’t want the inevitable conversation about sexuality or the eventuality that maybe will come up. Depending on whether you’re partnered or single and how that manifests in the relationship, it can come out in different ways through the avoidance of maybe different parts of the sexual experience, everything from dampening desire to avoiding touch altogether. 

Kimberley: That’s really interesting. They used to have it be a diagnosis and then now, did they give it a different name or did they just wipe it off of the DSM completely? What would you do diagnostically now? 

Dr. Lauren: It’s a great question. I think it was wiped out completely. I haven’t looked at a DSM in a long time. I think it was swiped out completely. Just personally as a sex therapist and the clinician I am today, I don’t use many of the sexual health diagnoses from the DSM because I think that they are pathologizing to the variation in the human sexual experience. I’m not so fond of them myself. What I usually do is I would frame that as an anxiety-related concern or just more of a sexual therapy or sex counseling concern. Because I think as we have a growing understanding of our nervous system and the ways in which our system steps in to protect us when something feels overwhelming or frightening or uncertain, I think it starts to make a lot of sense as to why we might avoid something or respond in the ways that we do. Once we have some understanding of maybe there’s some good sense behind this move that you’re making, whether that’s to avoid or protect or to hesitate or to get in your head, then we can have some power over adjusting how we’re experiencing the event once we understand that there’s usually a good reason why something’s there.

Kimberley: That is so beautiful. I love that you frame it that way. It’s actually a good lesson for me because I am always in the mindset of like, we’ve got to get rid of avoidance. That’s the anxiety work that I do. I think that you bring up a beautiful point that I hadn’t even considered, which is, we always look at avoidance as something we have to fix as soon as possible. I think what you’re saying is you don’t conceptualize it that way at all and we can talk more about what you could do to help if someone is having avoidance and they want to fix that. But what I think you’re saying is we’re not here to pathologize that as a problem here.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah. I see it, I’m trained less in the specifics. I think that makes a lot of sense when you’re working with specific anxiety disorders and OCD and the like. I’ve, as of late, been training in more and more emotionally focused therapy. I’m coming at it from an attachment perspective, and I’m coming at it from somewhat of a systemic perspective and saying, what is the avoidance doing? What is it trying to tell us? There’s usually some good reason somewhere along the way that we got where we are. Can I validate that that makes sense? That when something is scary or uncertain or you were never given good information or you really want something to go well and you’re not sure about it, and it means a lot to you, there’s all kinds of good reasons why that might hit as overwhelming.

When we’re talking about performance anxiety or sexual anxiety, really the number one strategy I’m looking for is, how can we work with what we call your window of tolerance? If your current comfort zone encompasses a certain amount of things, whatever that might be, certain sexual acts with maybe a certain person, maybe by yourself, I want to help you break down where you want to get to and break that into the smallest, manageable, tolerable steps so that what we’re doing is we’ve got one foot in your current window of what you can tolerate and maybe just a toe at a time out, and breaking that up into manageable pieces so that we don’t keep overwhelming your system. That is essentially what my job is with a lot of folks, is helping them take those steps and often what our nervous system needs to register, that it’s okay, that it’s safe, that we can move towards our goals. Cognitively, we think it’s too slow or it’s too small. It’s not. We have to really break that down. 

If there’s something about the sexual experience that you’re avoiding, that is overwhelming, that you’re afraid of, what I do is validate that, makes sense that that maybe is just too much and too big all at once. And then let’s figure out a way to work ourselves up to that goal over time. Usually, slower is faster. 

WHY DO PEOPLE HAVE SEXUAL ANXIETY? 

Kimberley: I love that. I really do. Why do people have sexual anxiety? Is that even an important question? Do you explore that with your patients? I think a lot of people, when I see them in my office or online, we know there’s a concern that they want to fix, but they’re really quite distressed by the feeling that something is wrong with them and they want to figure out what’s wrong with them. Do you have some feedback on why people have sexual anxiety? 

Dr. Lauren: I do. I think it can stem from a number of experiences or lack thereof in our lives. There are some trends and themes that come up again and again that I’ve seen over the years in sex therapy. Even though we’re taping here in the US, we’re in a culture that has a lot of sexuality embedded within the media, there is still a lot of taboo and a lot of misinformation about sex or a lack of information that people are given. I mean, we still have to fight for comprehensive sex education. Some people have gotten explicitly negative messages about sex growing up. Some people have been given very little to know information about sex growing up. Both of those environments can create anxiety about sex. We also live in a world where we’re talking openly about sex with friends, parents teaching their children more than just abstinence, and going into a little bit more depth about what healthy sexuality looks like between adults. A lot of that is still not happening. What you get is a very little frame of reference for what’s ‘normal’ and what’s considered concerning versus what is par for the course with a lifetime of being a sexual person. So, a lot of people are just left in the dark, and that can create anxiety for a good portion of those folks, whether it’s having misinformation or just no information about what to expect. And then the best thing that most of us have to draw on is the Hollywood version of a very brief sex scene.

Kimberley: Yes. I was just thinking about that.

Dr. Lauren: And it’s just so wildly different than your actual reality.

Kimberley: Yeah. That’s exactly what I was thinking about, is the expectation is getting higher and higher, especially as we’re more accessible to pornography online, for the young folks as well, just what they expect themselves to do.

Dr. Lauren: That’s right. We have young people being exposed to that on the internet. We’ve got adults viewing that. With proper porn literacy and ethical porn consumption, that can be a really healthy way to enjoy erotic content and to engage in sexuality. The troubling thing is when we’re not media literate, when we don’t have some of the critical thinking to really remember and retain the idea that this entertainment, this is for arousal purposes, that it’s really not giving an accurate or even close depiction of what really goes on between partners. I think it’s easier for us to maintain that level of awareness when we’re consuming general movies and television. But there’s something about that sexuality when you see it depicted in the media that so many people are still grappling with trying to mimic what they see. I think that’s because there’s such an absence of a frame of reference other than those media depictions.

SEXUAL ANXIETY IN MALES VS SEXUAL ANXIETY IN FEMALES 

Kimberley: Right. So good. Is there a difference between sexual anxiety in males and sexual anxiety in females?

Dr. Lauren: I think it can show up differently, certainly depending on what role you play in the sexual dynamic, what positions you’re looking to or what sexual acts you’re looking to explore. There’s a different level or a different flavor of anxiety, managing erection anxiety, managing anxiety around premature ejaculation. They’re all similar, but there’s some unique pieces to each one. All of the types of anxiety that I’ve seen related to sex have some common threads, which is getting up into our heads and dampening the experience of pleasure not being as present in the moment, not being as embodied in the moment, because we get too focused on what will or won’t happen just moments from now. 

While that makes so much sense, you’re trying to foretell whether it’s going to be a positive experience, there is a-- I hate to say like a self-fulfilling prophecy, but there’s a reaction in our bodies to some of those anxious thoughts. If I get into my head and I start thinking to myself, “This may not go well. This might hurt. I might lose my arousal. I might not be able to orgasm. My partner may not think I’m good in bed,” whatever those anxious thoughts are, the thoughts themselves can become a trigger for a physical reaction. That physical reaction is that it can turn on our sympathetic nervous system, and that is the part of our body that says, “Hey, something in the environment might be dangerous here, and it’s time to mobilize and get ready to run.”

What happens in those moments once our sympathetic system is online, a lot of that blood flow goes out of our genital region, out of our chest and into our extremities, to your arms, to your legs. Your body is acting as if there was a bear right there in front of you and your heart rate goes up and all of these things. Now, some of those can also be signs of arousal. That’s where it can get really tricky because panting or increased heart rate or sweating can also be arousal. It’s really confusing for some people because there can be a parallel process in your physiology. Is this arousal or is this anxiety? 

CAN ANXIETY IMPACT AROUSAL? CAN ANXIETY IMPACT SEX DRIVE? 

Kimberley: It’s funny that you mentioned that because as I was researching and doing a little bit of Googling about these topics, one of the questions which I don’t get asked very often is, can anxiety cause arousal? Because I know last time, we talked about how anxiety can reduce arousal. Is that something that people will often report to you that having anxiety causes them to have sexual arousal, not fight and flight arousal?

Dr. Lauren: Yeah. I mean, what I see more than anything is that it links to desire, and here’s how that tends to work for some people because then the desire links to the arousal and it becomes a chain. For many people out in the world, they engage in sexual activity to impart self-soothe and manage stress. It becomes a strategy or an activity that you might lean on when you’re feeling increased stress or distress. That could be several different emotions that include anxiety. If over my lifetime or throughout the years as I’ve grown, maybe I turn to masturbation, maybe I turn to partnered sex when I’m feeling anxious, stressed, or distressed, over time, that’s going to create a wiring of some of that emotion, and then my go-to strategy for decreasing that emotion or working through that emotion. That pairing over time can definitely work out so that as soon as I start feeling anxious, I might quickly come to feelings of arousal or a desire to be sexual.

Kimberley: Very interesting. Thank you. That was not a question I had, but it was interesting that it came up when I was researching. Very, very cool. This is like a wild card question. Again, when I was researching here, one of the things that I got went down a little rabbit hole, a Google rabbit hole, how you go down those...

Dr. Lauren: That’s never happened to me.

WHAT IS POST-SEX ANXIETY? 

Kimberley: ...is, what about post-sex anxiety? A lot of what we are talking about today, what I would assume is anticipatory anxiety or during-sex anxiety. What about post-sex anxiety? What is post-sex anxiety?

Dr. Lauren: I’ve come across more-- I don’t know if it’s research or articles that have been written about something called postcoital dysphoria, which is like after-sex blues. Some people get tearful, some get sad, some feel like they want to pull away from their partner and they need a little bit of space. That’s certainly a thing that people report. I think either coexisting with that or sometimes in its place can be maybe feelings of anxiety that ramp up. I think that can be for a variety of things. Some of it could be, again, getting into your head and then doing a replay like, was that good? Are they satisfied? We get into this thinking that it’s like a good or bad experience and which one was it.

Also, there’s many people who look to sex, especially when we have more anxiety, and particularly if we have a more predominantly anxious attachment where we look to sex as a way to validate the relationship, to feel comforted, to feel secure, to feel steady. There’s a process that happens where it’s like seeking out sex for comfort and steadiness, having sex in the moment, feeling more grounded. And then some of that anxiety may just return right on the other end once sex is over, and then you’re back to maybe feeling some insecurity or unsteadiness again. When that happens, that’s usually a sign that it’s not just about sex. It’s not just a sexual thing. It’s actually more of an attachment and an insecurity element that needs and warrants may be a greater conversation. 

The other thing is your hormones and chemicals change throughout the experience. You get this increase of bonding maybe with a partner, oxytocin, and feel-good chemicals, and then they can sometimes drop off after an orgasm, after the experience. For some people, they might just experience that as depressed mood anxiety, or just a feeling of being unsettled.

Kimberley: That’s so interesting. It makes total sense about the attachment piece and the relational piece, and that rumination, that more self-criticism that people may do once they’ve reviewed their performance per se. That’s really helpful to hear. Actually, several people have mentioned to me when I do lives on Instagram the postcoital dysphoria. Maybe you could help me with the way to word it, but is that because of a hormone shift, or is that, again, because of a psychological shift that happens after orgasm?

Dr. Lauren: My understanding is that we’re still learning about it, that we’ve noticed that it’s a phenomenon. We’re aware of it, we have a name for it, but I don’t know that we have enough research to fully understand it just yet. Right now, if I’m not misquoting the research, I believe our understanding is more anecdotal at this point. I would say, many different things could be possible, anything from chemical changes to attachment insecurities, and there’s probably things that are beyond that I’m also missing in that equation. I think it’s something we’re still studying.

HOW TO OVERCOME SEX ANXIETY, AND HOW CAN WE COPE WITH SEX ANXIETY?  

Kimberley: Very interesting. Let’s talk now about solutions. When should someone reach out to either a medical professional, a mental health professional? What would you advise them to do if they’re experiencing sexual anxiety or performance anxiety when it comes to sex?

Dr. Lauren: That makes a lot of sense. That’s a great question. What I like to tell people is I want you to think of your sexual experiences like a bell curve. For those who were not very science or math-minded like myself, just a quick refresher, a bell curve basically says that the majority of your experiences in sex are going to be good, or that’s what we’re hoping for and aiming for. And then there’s going to be a few on one tail, there’s going to be some of those, not the majority, that are amazing, that are excellent, that really stand out. Yes, mind-blowing, fabulous. And then there’s the other side of that curve, that pole. The other end is going to be, something didn’t work out, disappointing, frustrating. There is no 100% sexual function across a lifetime with zero hiccups. That’s not going to be a realistic goal or expectation for us. 

I always like to start off by reminding people that you’re going to have some variation and experience. What we’d like is for at least a good chunk of them to be what Barry McCarthy calls good enough sex. It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing every time, but we want it to be satisfying, of good quality. If you find that once or twice you can’t get aroused, you don’t orgasm, you’re not as into it, one of the liabilities for us anxious folks, and I consider myself one of them having generalized anxiety disorder my whole life—one of the things that we can do sometimes is get catastrophic with one or two events where it doesn’t go well and start to jump to the conclusion that this is a really bad thing that’s happening and it’s going to happen again, and it’s life-altering sort of thing. One thing is just keeping this in mind that sometimes that’s going to happen, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the next time you go to be sexual that it’ll happen again. But if you start to notice a pattern, a trend over several encounters, then you might consider reaching out to someone like a general therapist, a sex therapist to help you figure out what’s going on. 

Sometimes there’s a medical component to some of these concerns, like a pattern of difficulty with arousal. That’s not a bad idea to get that checked out by a medical provider because sometimes there could be blood flow concerns or hormone concerns. Again, I think we’re looking for patterns. If there’s a pattern, if it’s something that’s happening more than a handful of times, and certainly if it’s distressing to you, that might be a reason to reach out and see a professional.

Kimberley: I think you’re right. I love the bell curve idea and actually, that sounds very true because often I’ll have clients who have never mentioned sex to me. We’re working on their anxiety disorder, and then they have one time where they were unable to become aroused or have an erection or have an orgasm. And then like you said, that catastrophic thought of like, “What happens if this happens again? What if it keeps happening?” And then as you said, they start to ruminate and then they start to avoid and they seek reassurance and all those things. And then we’re in that kind of, as you said, self-fulfilling, now we’re in that pattern. That rings very, very true. What about, is there any piece of this? I know I’m disclosing and maybe from my listeners, you’re probably thinking it’s TMI, but I remember after having children that everything was different and it did require me to go and speak to a doctor and check that out. So, my concerns were valid in that point. Would it be go to the therapist first, go to the doctor first? What would you recommend?

Dr. Lauren: Yeah. I mean, you’re not alone in that. The concerns are always valid, whether they’re medical, whether they’re psychological, wherever it’s stemming from. If after once or twice you get freaked out and you want to just go get checked out, I don’t want to discourage anybody from doing that either. We’re more than happy to see you, even if it’s happened once or twice, just to help walk you through that so you’re not alone. But the patterns are what we’re looking for overall. 

I think it depends. Here’s some of the signs that I look for. If sex is painful, particularly for people with vaginas, if it’s painful and it’s consistently painful, that’s something that I would recommend seeing a sexual medicine specialist for. There are some websites you can go to to look up a sexual medicine specialist, someone in particular who has received specialized training to treat painful sex and pelvic pain. That would be an indicator. If your body is doing a lot of bracing and tensing with sex so your pelvic floor muscles are getting really tight, your thighs are clenching up, those might be some moments where maybe you want to see a medical provider because from there, they may or may not recommend, depending on whether it’s a fit for you, something called pelvic floor therapy. That’s something that people can do at various stages of life for various reasons but is doing some work specifically with the body. 

Other things would be for folks with penises. If you’re waking up consistently over time where you’re having difficulty getting erections for sexual activity and you’re not waking up with erections anymore, that morning wood—if that’s consistent over time, that could be an indicator to go get something checked out, maybe get some blood work, talk to your primary care just to make sure that there’s nothing in addition to maybe if we think anxiety is a part of it, make sure there’s nothing else that could be going on as well.

HOW TO COPE WITH SEX ANXIETY

Kimberley: Right. I love this. This is so good. Thank you again. Let’s quickly just round it out with, how may we overcome this sex anxiety, or how could we cope with sex anxiety?

Dr. Lauren: It’s the million-dollar question, and I’ve got a pretty, I’ll say, simple but not easy answer. It’s a very basic answer.

Kimberley: The good answers are always simple but hard to apply.

Dr. Lauren: Simple, it’s a simple theory or idea. It’s very hard in practice. One of, I’d say, the main things I do as a sex therapist is help people really diversify what sex is. The more rigid of a definition we have for sex and the more rigidly we adhere to a very particular set of things that have to happen in a particular order, in a very specific way, the more trouble we’re going to have throughout our lifetime making that specific thing happen. The work is really in broadening and expanding our definition of sex and having maybe a handful of different pathways to be sexual or to be intimate with a partner so that, hey, if today I have a little bit more anxiety and I’m not so sure that I get aroused that we can do path A or B. If penetration is not possible today because of whatever reason that we can take path C. When we have more energy or less energy, more time, less time, that the more flexibility we have and expansiveness we have to being intimate and sexual, the more sexual you’ll be.

Kimberley: Just because I want to make sure I can get what you’re saying, when you say this inflexible idea of what this narrow you’re talking about, I’m assuming, I’m putting words in your mouth and maybe what you’re thinking because I’m sure everybody’s different, but would I be right in assuming that the general population think that sex is just intercourse and what you’re saying is that it’s broader in terms of oral sex and other? Is that the A, B, and C you’re talking about? 

Dr. Lauren: Yeah. There’s this standard sexual script that most people follow. It’s the one that we see in Hollywood, in erotic videos. It centers mostly heterosexual vaginal penetration, so penis and vagina sex. It centers sex as culminating in orgasm mainly for the man, and then nice if it happens for the woman as well in these heterosexual scenarios. It follows a very linear progression from start to finish. It looks something like—tell me if this doesn’t sound familiar—a little bit of kissing and some light touching and then some heavier touching, groping, caressing, and then maybe oral sex and then penetration as the main event, orgasm as the finish line. That would be an example of when I say path A or B or C. I’m thinking like that in particular what I just described. 

Let’s call that path A for not that it’s the gold standard, but it’s the one we draw on. Let’s say that’s one option for having a sexual encounter. But I also want people to think about there’s going to be times where that is not on the table for a variety of reasons, because if you think about it, that requires a certain energy, time. There might be certain conditions that you feel need to be present in order for that to be possible. For some people, it automatically goes to the wayside the moment something happens like, “Well, I don’t feel like I have enough time,” or “I’m tired,” or “I’m menstruating,” or whatever it is. Something comes up as a barrier and then that goes out the door. That can include things like anxiety and feeling like we have to adhere to this progression in this particular way. Let’s call that path A. Path B might be, we select a couple of things from that that we like. Let’s say we do a little kissing and we do oral sex and we say goodnight. Let’s say path C is we take a shower together and we kiss and we soap each other’s backs and we hug. That’s path C. Path D is massaging each other, full body. You’ve got all these different pathways to being erotic or sensual or intimate or sexual. The more that you have different pathways to being intimate, the more intimate you’ll be.

Kimberley: That is so relieving is the word I feel. I feel a sense of relief in terms of like, you’re right. I think that that is a huge answer, as you said. Actually, I think it’s a good answer. I don’t think that’s a hard answer. I like that. For me, it feels like this wonderful relief of pressure or change of story and narrative. I love that. I know in the last episode you did, you talked a lot about mindfulness and stuff like that, which I will have in this series. People can go and listen to it as well. I’m sure that’s a piece of the pie. I want to be respectful of your time. Where can people hear more about you and the work that you’re doing? I know that you have an exciting book coming out, so tell us a little bit about all that.

Dr. Lauren: Thank you. I do. I co-authored a book called Desire. It’s an inclusive guide to managing libido differences in relationships. I co-authored that with my colleague Dr. Jennifer Vencill. That comes out August 22nd, 2023 of this year. We’ll be talking in that book mainly about desire. There are some chapters or some sections in the book that do intersect with things like anxiety. There’s some particular instructions and exercises that help walk people through some things that they can do with a partner or on their own to work through anxiety. We’ve got an anxiety hierarchy in there where whatever your goal might be, how to break that up into smaller pieces. We’re really excited about that. I think that might be helpful for some people in your audience. And then in general, I am most active on Instagram. My handle is my full name. It’s @drlaurenfogelmersy. I’m also on Facebook and TikTok. My website is drlaurenfogel.com.

Kimberley: Thank you. Once again, so much pleasure having you on the show. Thank you for your beautiful expertise. You bring a gentle, respectful warmth to these more difficult conversations, so thank you.

Dr. Lauren: Oh, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me back.

Mar 24, 2023

Welcome back, everybody. I had a whole other topic planned to talk with you about today and I’ve had to basically bench it because I feel so compelled to talk to you about this topic, which is the topic of having fun. Now, you might be having a strong reaction to this and maybe there’s a bunch of people who didn’t listen because the idea of having fun feels so silly when you are anxious and depressed. It feels like a stupid idea, a ridiculous idea. But the last few weeks have taught me such valuable lessons about mental health. I talk about mental health all the time. That’s what I live and breathe pretty much. Sometimes when you have an experience—I keep saying it changes your DNA—I feel to a degree my DNA has been changed these last few weeks and let me share with you why. 



329 Make fun a priority

For those of you who follow me on social media, you will know that in the last couple of weeks, I made a very last-minute trip to the United Kingdom. What happened was pre-COVID, I had booked tickets to visit London for a work event, and COVID happened. I had a certain amount of time to use these tickets, and I actually had thought that those tickets had expired on December 30th of last year. And then one Friday morning, I woke up and checked my email and it said, “You have 18 days until you depart.” I’m thinking, 18 days to depart, where? I haven’t booked any tickets. Only to find out that my tickets were put on what’s called an “open hold,” which meant they had just put a date to a trip knowing that I would log in and reschedule it when I was ready. It turned out to be three years later. And then I logged on and saw I have 19 days to use my ticket. 

I went upstairs, I talked to my husband, and I said, “I have this ticket to the United Kingdom I’ve never been to. I would really love to go.” He said, “You should go. I think it would be really good for you. I’ll stay home with the kids. You go.” That was the plan. I was going to go, I was going to keep working, I was going to see my clients, but when I wasn’t working, I would go out and have British food and maybe go walk around London and maybe visit a castle or two. That was the plan. I was so excited. 

I happened to mention it to my sister-in-law who I love, and I said, “Ha-ha, you should come.” She said, “Oh! No, there’s no way I could come and I didn’t think anything of it.” And then the next morning I woke up, she had messaged me and said, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m coming.”

Now, there is a point to this story, which is, my first thought was, “Oh my gosh, that’s so exciting.” My second thought was, “Oh my gosh, that is scary,” because my sister-in-law is the most wonderful human being and she loves to have fun. What was shocking to me is I started to notice I was going to pump the brakes on fun. No, no, no, no, no, no. Oh my gosh. Now quickly, of course, I said, “Come, I’m so excited.” We went, but that response was so interesting to me. What it was, was my anxiety did not like the idea that we were going to go and let loose. My anxiety did not like that inhibitory piece, that amygdala deep in my brain was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, pump the brakes. This is going way too fast for me.” 

The reason I’m doing today’s episode is I bet you that’s what your brain does too. It wants to pump the brakes on fun and pleasure because it creates uncertainty and it creates vulnerability and it creates where things aren’t in control anymore. Letting go and having fun is hard when you have anxiety. Letting go and having fun is hard when you have depression. 

“Yes” Week

We went and we called the week “YES week.” Actually, I called it “YES week” because I knew this was an exposure I needed to do. We made an agreement that if one person wanted to do something, both of us had to say yes. If someone wanted to try a food, and my sister-in-law loves to try all the different foods, we both had to say yes. It was such a deep exposure experience for me. A deep, oh my gosh, pleasurable. I don’t want you to think it was all hard because the truth is, it was all pleasurable and I was so surprised at how my brain kept making problems out of having fun. 

I’ll give you another example. We’re sitting at this Indian restaurant. We kept saying to the maitre d’ or the people at the front desk, “Tell us the best Indian restaurant. Tell us the best high tea. Tell us the best place to go and have drinks. Tell us the best place to get scotch eggs. Tell us the best place to have Scottish pie. Tell us the best.” We kept saying that. We were sitting at this Indian restaurant and my sister-in-law was like, “We’ll have one of those and one of those and one of those and one of those.” She’s a foodie. I could even feel my body going like, “No, no, no, no, that’s too much fun.” It’s so interesting to me how my brain was pumping the breaks on fun and how when you have fun, again, after doing this for one week, I felt like my DNA was changed. I realized how-- I don’t want to use the word controlling because I don’t consider myself a controlling person, but how much my brain wants to monitor the amount of fun that happens and how much my brain’s anxiety wants to raise alerts about the simplest things.

We went to a million abbeys and I realized that I have this deep love for visiting churches and abbeys. Oh my gosh, I feel like my whole heart just shines bright. I’m not particularly a religious person at all, but just visiting these abbeys in these gorgeous places. And then she’ll come up and she’ll pull on my sleeve and she’ll say, “Let’s go do this extra tour.” My mind wants to be like, “No, no, no, no. We’ve done enough fun for one day.” She’s like, “Let’s go.” I’d be like, “Yes,” because we have to say yes. 

There’s this place called Duck & Waffle, which is a ‘70s nightclub restaurant. It was fabulous. She’s like, “We should try that.” My brain kept going, “No, no. We just had some food before.” It was all these things and it was just keep saying yes to fun. Keep saying yes, keep saying yes. Yes week, that’s what it was. I realized after a week of doing this how little power my anxiety had. I’m thinking about it. I’m just dropping down into it. You can see I’m slowing down.

Now, number one, I want to acknowledge, you can’t live like that forever. That was a vacation. I would never do that on a day-to-day basis because it’s not realistic, it’s not reasonable. We have to live a reasonable life. But I made a deal with myself as I was going back over Greenland. I was flying over Greenland looking at this huge snowy country and I was thinking, wow, I wish I lived in a country this beautiful. And then I was like, “Wait, I do.” You could start to practice being in the beauty of your country more. And then I started thinking, what would happen if I went home and I deeply enjoyed the food? Like I slowed down to actually take in the pleasure of the food. I mean, I think I do an okay job at this, but on vacation, like I said, we were practicing going, “Ooh, I love the flavor of this. Ooh, that’s so soft and that’s so sweet and that’s so tender,” and all the things. 

What if I actually really allowed pleasure and fun to tickle my senses here in my daily life? What if instead of making dinner like a serious mom, which I often do because I don’t want to embarrass my children—what if instead I let myself dance more? What if I goofed off more? What if I enjoyed laughing more? What if I practiced and made a habit of implementing fun into my life on the daily? This is what I was thinking about, what’s the ratio of work to fun in your life? I mean, I’m guessing you have either school or work or family or a mental health issue that you’re managing or a medical health issue that you’re managing. That’s work. What’s the ratio of work to fun? It made me really think like I have a wonderful life and I’m so grateful for my wonderful life, but the ratio of work to fun is not ideal. It’s not where I want it to be.

Once I had spent a week of just saying yes, yes, yes, and not letting fear ever say no, it was so cool because I had this accountability buddy right next to me. I realized like once I’d done that for a week, I wanted to keep it going. I didn’t want to go back to pumping the brakes anymore. It’s been such a beautiful gift that I had. 

The Fun Habit

Now, I’m going to encourage you to create a yes week or a yes day, or a yes hour. I just finished a book called The Fun Habit: How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life. It’s by Mike Rucker. A friend of mine encouraged me to read it after I had told her like I literally just had this date with fun. I had this exposure of fun. I had a yes week where we said yes to. If we wanted to sleep in, we slept in. If we wanted to read, we read. It was really beautiful. Again, I understand the privilege of having that experience, but I worked my butt off too. I needed that. I really, really needed that. My mental health really needed it and so forth. But the book is talking about how we have talked about and trained ourselves to be afraid of fun. We’ve demonized fun as if it’s irresponsible or unnecessary or ridiculous or lazy. 

I want to leave you today with the idea to plant a seed where you go and have more fun. I was thinking about it. For those of you who have anxiety disorders or depressive disorder, this is the biggest FU to anxiety. It’s the biggest FU to depression. It’s the biggest “Don’t tell me what to do” when it comes to recovering from anxiety and depression. Is it going to fix it completely? No. I don’t want to oversell it here. But is it a major game changer? Does it change the way we see the world? Does it increase the dopamine that gets released into your body? Does it make the hard work worth it? Yes. 

I was thinking like, I was so excited to go back to work because I had a week of fun. If I had have done my original plan, which is where I worked while I was in London, and I just visited a little on the side, I wouldn’t have been that excited to come back to work. But I was so excited to come back to work and I was so excited to sit down and talk to you on this podcast. I don’t think that would’ve been the case if I had have pumped the brakes like I was planning to for that week.

Have More Fun!

There you have it. I’m going to ask you, please give you permission. Go and have more fun. Increase the percentage a few percent or 100% or 50% or 10%, whatever you can do. But do your best to implement pieces of fun into your daily life. It will literally change your DNA. Not literally, that’s scientifically not true. Don’t take that as literal. But for me, I felt like my DNA had been changed. I kept saying it. I’m like, “I feel like my DNA has something shifted in me.” It’s because I realized even though I have so much joy in my life, I do still pump the brakes on fun and I want there to be more and I’m dedicating more time to fun and savoring pleasure. 

So that’s all I want to say. Go and have some fun, please. I’d love to hear about the fun that you’re having. When fear shows up, try to confuse it by saying, “You know what, fear? You can be here and I’m going to go choose fun anyway.” Fun can be whatever it is for you. There’s no right way of having fun and it doesn’t have to be expensive here either. Like I said, a lot of the things that my sister-in-law and I did cost no money. It’s just that we were saying yes to silly things. Some of it was even like cartwheeling in the underground train station or giggling at stupid things that are so silly and so immature, but having fun with it. Just have some fun.

I love you. I hope you’re having a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to have fun is all I’m going to say to you today. I will see you next week. We have a very cool series coming up, which you are going to love, so stick around. I’ll see you next week.

Mar 17, 2023

Today, we’re going to talk about the 15 depression symptoms you may not know about. My hope is that it will help you, number one, understand your symptoms, and number two, get help faster. Let’s do this. Let’s get started. 



I hope you are well. I hope you are kind and gentle to yourself today. I hope you are taking moments to notice that the trees are changing, the leaves are changing, and spring is here. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, maybe the weather is changing. Also, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, my lovely friends in Australia, I just want to remind you to stop and take note of the weather. It can be one of the most mindful activities we engage in, and it can help us be grounded in the present instead of thinking forward, thinking backward, and ruminating on the past and the future. 

I hope you can take a minute. We can take a breath right here... and you can actually take in this present moment before we get started. 

Today, we’re talking about 15 depression symptoms you may not know about. As I said in the intro, my hope is that these symptoms help you understand what’s going on for you if you’re depressed or help you get help faster. 

Ep 328 15 depression symptoms you may not know about

Mnemonic For Depression Symptoms

Now, some of you may really have a good understanding of depression symptoms. Some of you may know the common ways that it shows up, so I will first address those just to make sure you’ve got a basic understanding of common depression symptoms. I’m going to actually give you a mnemonic for depression symptoms. I find it’s very helpful to have this on hand when I’m assessing my clients and my patients. It’s a really good check-in even for myself like, what’s going on? Could this be depression? Let’s go through this mnemonic for depression

D is for depressed mood. I think we all know about that one. That’s a very common Hollywood way of understanding people who are sad, feeling very down, and so forth. We mostly all know the D for depression. 

E is for energy loss and fatigue. In fact, I did a poll on Instagram. For those of you who don’t follow me, go ahead and follow me @youranxietytoolkit. I did a poll and I asked, what are the most painful parts of depression, and the most common response was complete fatigue, complete exhaustion, just overwhelming tiredness and energy loss. I think that that’s a really common one. It can be confusing because you’re like, “What’s going on?” It makes you feel like maybe there’s a medical condition going on, but often it is depression.

The P is for pleasure loss. Now, this is an important one that we look for in clinical work as we’re looking for. Is the person with depression completely at a loss and they’re not enjoying the things they used to? Are they struggling to get joy out of even the most joyful things that they used to find joyful? That’s a very common one. 

The R is for retardation or excitation. What we’re talking about there is moving very slowly, like a sloth pace or even just sitting there and staring and unable to move your body completely, inability to get motivated to move. Excitation is the other one, which is like you feel very jittery and you feel very on edge and so forth. 

The E is for eating changes such as appetite increase or decrease, or weight increase or decrease. Again, common symptoms for depression. 

The S is for sleep changes. It is very common for people with depression to either want to sleep or need to sleep all day, again, because of that energy loss. Or they lay awake for hours at night staring at the roof, unable to sleep, experiencing sleep anxiety, which can often then impact their sleep rhythm. They’re sleeping all day, staying awake all night, or vice versa, but in a very lethargic way. 

The next S is for suicidal thoughts or what we call suicidal ideation. These are thoughts of death, thoughts of dying, and sometimes plans to die. If that is you, please do go and see a mental health professional immediately or go to your ER or call the emergency in whatever country you are. For America, it’s 911. Suicidal thoughts are very, very common with depression. We have two types of suicidal thoughts in depression, and that’s usually passive suicidal thoughts and then active suicidal thoughts. Passive is thoughts of death, but you just want to crawl under a rock and just go to sleep and never wake up. Active suicidal thoughts is where you’re actually wishing to die. It’s important to differentiate, and clinically, we do make some changes depending on which is which. 

The I for depression is “I am a failure.” This has a lot to do with shame or loss of confidence and self-esteem issues. “I am a failure” is a big one that often doesn’t get disclosed until the person is in therapy. We even did an episode a couple of weeks ago. Depression Is A Liar was the title. Depression tells you all these lies. It tells you you’re a failure and you start to believe it. It tells you there’s something wrong with you and you start to believe it. That is a very common part of having depression. 

The O is “only me to blame,” and this is what we call guilt. With depression, often people will feel guilty for everything, feel guilt & regret all day, every day. “I’m not a good mom,” “I’m not a good friend,” “I’m not a good talk daughter,” “I’m not a good employee,” “I’m not a good boss,” whatever it may be. And then they blame themselves, punish themselves, and a lot. 

The N is for no concentration. Again, when I did the poll on Instagram, so many people posted that they just cannot think, they can’t plan, they can’t concentrate, they can’t learn if they’re in school, they can’t stay focused on a conversation. These are all very common symptoms of depression that may be impacting you either a little bit or, in many cases, an immense amount.

They’re the most common. That’s a mnemonic for depression symptoms. They’re the most common that we assess for. But now I want to go into the 15 depression symptoms you may not know about. 

The way that I’m structuring this podcast episode is I’ve broken it down into different categories of people. But what I want you to recognize before we go down is these are not specific to only these categories of people because it depends on the person. We have to be very person-centered when it comes to looking at depression and diagnosing depression and treating depression because there’s no one way to have depression. I don’t want to miscategorize any of this. I’m just talking very generally, so I want to give a disclaimer as I go through these different categories or groups of people. Please note that it’s probably true for everybody. It’s just more common in these groups. 

Before we get started, I want to remind you. I know I did an announcement. I want to remind you, the Overcoming Depression Course is going live on March 11th. This is very exciting. This is a live online course that I am teaching live on Zoom. I will be teaching you over the course of three different weekends on Saturday mornings from 9:00 to 10:30 on March 11th, March 18th, and March 25th, 2023. If you want to sign up and come and learn from me, I’ll be going through five major areas in which you can make changes related to depression. I will be giving you all of this psychoeducation upfront. There will be a workbook that you can use on your own to really put the skills and tools and strategies into place. If you’re interested in joining us, may I say again live, head on over to CBTSchool.com/Depression. It’ll take you to the page. You can sign up there and then I will send you via email all of the information you need to be there for our live conversations. You can ask questions in the chat box. My hope is to double down with motivating you, inspiring you, educating you, and getting you feeling a little more confident on what to do if you’re struggling with these symptoms. My hope is to help you see that depression is a liar and you can break free! 

Here we go. 

Depression Symptoms In Men

Again, I’m speaking generally here, and I really want to be careful here because it’s definitely not just men who experienced this, but I did a lot of research for this episode and these were the statistics that I found to be most common in these areas. 

Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness

That’s not in the mnemonic for depression that we went over. A lot of times people miss this core symptom, which is anger, irritability, or aggressiveness. Now, is it only men? Absolutely not. I want to be really clear here, that is absolutely not the case, but I think because of the stigma for men around showing sadness or showing depression, they have shown that men tend to express it in a different way, because sometimes men don’t feel comfortable crying in public with their friends or loved ones. Not always true. Again, I’m going to keep saying not always, but I think that’s a cultural expectation put on men and therefore it does come out when in the form of anger, irritability, or aggressiveness. Irritability is a huge one when it comes to depression that I have seen clinically. 

Problems with sexual desire and performance

This is, again, not just for men, but common in the research for men is common problems with sexual desire and performance. A lot of men and women, but again, I don’t want to be excluding anyone here, have found that they either have a massive lack of sexual desire or struggle to reach arousal, struggle to reach orgasm. We are going to be addressing this in-depth here in the next couple of months and I’m going to put a lot of energy into making sure we address how much it impacts people and sex. Stick around for that. I’m super excited. But there is another common depression symptom you may not know about. Sometimes we think it’s anxiety that causes that, but it’s not just anxiety; it can be depression too. 

Engaging in high-risk activities

Again, not just for men, but it has been shown to be more prevalent in men. High-risk activities, spending a lot of money, driving fast in cars, gambling, drug use, and so forth. Again, not just in men, but this is another common depression symptom you may not know about and maybe diagnosed and put in a different category when really the person is deeply depressed and trying to feel pleasure. Remember we talked about the mnemonic P is for pleasure loss. Often we engage in these high-risk activities because we’re just desperate to feel that sense of pleasure and exhilaration again. 

A need for alcohol or drugs

Again, not just men and I will discuss this in other categories as well, but it is common that an increased use of alcohol and drugs could be a sign that you are getting an increased level of depression. Then what happens is when you’re using a lot of alcohol and drugs, you usually have a hangover or some kind of side effect to that which makes you feel more depressed, which then makes you feel more like you need to have more alcohol and drugs. Again, it’s a cycle that can really cause a lot of chaos in people’s life and could be simply the first symptom or way to cope with depression. 

Depression Symptoms In Women

Women are twice as likely to develop depression than men. That’s a statistic I didn’t know. Up to 1 in 4 women are likely to have major depressive disorder or major depression at some point in their life. 1 in 4, that is so high. We have to make sure we’re catching people and helping people with this massive issue. 

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Prementstrual Dysphoric Disorder involves a massive influx of depressive symptoms right before your period or at specific stages of your menstrual cycle. Very common. In fact, again, we’re going to be addressing this very soon on the podcast as well. These are some areas I feel like I have completely missed as your podcast host, so I want to really make sure we’re targeting and addressing these issues as we move forward. 

Perinatal Depression

Perinatal depression occurs around pregnancy before or after pregnancy starts. 

Perimenopausal Depression

Perimenopausal depression is around the menopausal period for people going into menopause. 

These are common symptoms of depression that get missed all the time or get misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed when the person is really suffering. 

A lot of people who follow me have said they’ve gone to their doctor to share how they get this massive influx of depression before their period or in their cycle, and the doctor has blown them off and said, “Eat more celery juice,” or “Exercise more.” While, yes, exercising can be helpful for depression, we are missing a major depression symptom, and I want you to be informed about those.

Depression Symptoms In Kids

Oh, the kiddos. It’s so hard on the kiddos. In fact, one of the reasons I have been so hyped on talking about depression was, in August of last year, my daughter went in for her yearly checkup with her pediatrician and the pediatrician insisted on doing all of these mental checklists with her. I was saying to her, “Is this really necessary? She’s doing fine. To what degree are you scaring her?” She said, “Oh, you have no idea the degree of depression in children since COVID.” “I had no idea and I’m a mental health professional. How did I not know this?” She said, “Yeah, it’s everywhere in kids, and kids are really good at hiding it.” I literally sank in my chair like, “How did I miss this? How did I not know this?”

We talked about it a lot and I think it’s really important that we understand that depression symptoms in kids often look like what we call in some societies like naughty kids. Again, let’s go through them. 

Big emotional outbursts 

When we see kids on the playground having big outbursts, big anger responses, again, we talked about that before, sometimes they get labeled as the naughty kids. Well, guess what? We’ve got to make sure we check to make sure they’re not depressed. Because that is a symptom of depression. 

Difficulty initiating and maintaining social relationships

Again, after COVID, a lot of parents I’ve heard have said, “Oh, I think they just lost their ability to make friends during COVID,” which I totally get. We had to train my son after COVID to follow basic social cues because he hadn’t seen people in so long. But again, we have to keep an eye on whether this is a symptom of depression in children

Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure

This one is so important not just for kids, but for teens, adults, everyone. With depression, we all have sensitivity to rejection of failure. No one wants that. But often a symptom of depression is extreme sensitivity and absolute devastation about getting rejected for, let’s say, a school play or to be picked in soccer or they had a big issue with a test or so forth. They have a strong, strong reaction to that. 

Frequent absences from school and/or a sudden decline in grades

If kids got a massive decline in grades or they started refusing to go to school, my instinct is to always say, “Oh, there’s some anxiety going on. They’re anxious. They don’t want to go to school, they must be ‘avoiding school’ because of anxiety as a compulsion.” Well, guess what? It could be depression, and let’s make sure we assess these kiddos correctly. This is true for adults as well. If we’re depressed, we don’t want to go out, we don’t want to go to the show on Friday night, we don’t want to hang out with friends. That makes sense as well. 

Depression With Somatic Symptoms

This is probably the most important one. Very common symptoms of depression include headaches, stomach ache, muscle pain, sore back. These are very common physical symptoms of depression and ones that we have to make sure that we aren’t ignoring to make sure that they get the care. A lot of people go into the medical system complaining of physical symptoms only to find out that nothing is wrong and they can’t understand it, and it could be depression. Not always—please always go and get a medical checkup—but it could be. 

Depression Symptoms In Teens

All of the symptoms I’ve shared above could be present in teens as well. Like I said, these are not categories that are only just for these categorical lots of people. 

General overwhelming sense of apathy

Commonly with teens is this general overwhelming sense of apathy like, “I don’t care. I don’t care about you, I don’t care about me, I don’t care about school.” Often parents can interpret this as like, “Oh my god, my kid is horrible.” But again, we have to make sure we’re assessing for depression first.

Excessive guilt

I did have that as the mnemonic under O (only me to blame), but this shows up a lot in kids and teens—excessive saying I’m sorry, excessive apologizing, feeling hyper-responsible for everything that happens, feeling hyper-responsible for the social issues and drama that’s happening at school, ruminating a lot about that. Again, this is common for anybody, very common for anybody with depression as well, but with teens, it really does start to spike. 

Preoccupation with death or on death

Again, this could be true for other categories or any human being, but we do see it show up a lot in teens—a preoccupation on death regarding movies, music, shows, or books they’re reading. Just really a heavy focus on things related to death or very dark, dark topics, aggressive topics. This can play out in many ways. Again, it could also be very normal behavior and that could be something that brings them great pleasure. But again, I’m only bringing it up because these are common unknown depression symptoms that you don’t possibly know could be a symptom of depression. I think it’s better to be educated than to ignore it and not know. 

That’s the 15 depression symptoms you may not know about. One thing to consider, and I did touch on this during the episode, is commonly we have to look at depression symptoms versus anxiety symptoms. The truth is, many of these are also symptoms of anxiety. Let’s go through some of them. Anger, irritability, aggressiveness—true for anxiety. Sexual desire—true for anxiety, engaging in high-risk activities—true for anxiety. A need for alcohol and drugs—true for anxiety.

We do notice some perinatal symptoms and perimenopausal symptoms impact anxiety as well, but we’re specifically weren’t speaking to those today. But if we move into the kids category: outbursts, difficulty maintaining relationships, sensitivity to failure, frequent absences, somatic symptoms, guilt, apathy, preoccupation—these are also very common in anxiety. 

What I want you to leave with today is this: Take everything you learnt today. I hope that this didn’t create more anxiety for you. Just take it as knowledge. Take it as something you now know so that you can be an informed consumer, an informed patient, an informed client with your therapist so that you can know. I will say, if I’m speaking completely vulnerably, reading all the research I did made me very anxious because I have a close to teen child and I was thinking, oh my gosh, what happens if this starts to go down this track and looking at the statistics of suicide and so forth. It is anxiety provoking. But what I did in that moment—and if this helps you, I hope it does—is I said to myself, “Kimberley, you’re better to be informed and practice not ruminating and doing mental compulsions about this and catastrophizing than you are to not know at all.” Here I have an opportunity to practice all of the response prevention skills, the mindfulness skills, the self-compassion skills that I have in my tool belt and that you hopefully have in your tool belt if you’ve been a long-term listener here on Your Anxiety Toolkit. We’re going to use those tools to help us manage this, but we’re going to practice being an informed consumer here.

I hope this has been helpful. They are the 15 depression symptoms you may not know about and now you know. 

Thank you, guys. I’m so happy to be here with you today. Stick around because some pretty exciting things are coming up. A lot of you know we had the mental compulsion series last year. This year, we are having a full sexual health related to mental health series that is just around the corner. It is going to be so incredible. I have some amazing doctors, psychiatrists, sex therapists, educators coming on to talk specifically with you around specific issues, around sexual health related to anxiety and depression. I’m so, so excited, so proud, and so honored to get to do this work with you. 

All right, I’m going to hit the road. Have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to do hard things, and I’ll see you next week.

Mar 10, 2023

In this episode, we are talking about the emotional toll of OCD. 

Kim: Welcome back, everybody. This week is going to include three of some of my most favorite people on this entire planet. We have the amazing Chris Trondsen, Alegra Kastens, and Jessica Serber—all dear friends of mine—on the podcast. This is the first time I’ve done an episode with more than one guest. 



Now, this was actually a presentation that the four of us did at multiple IOCDF conferences. It was a highly requested topic. We were talking a lot about trauma and OCD, shame and OCD, the stigma of OCD, guilt and OCD, and the depression and grief that goes with OCD. After we presented it, it actually got accepted to multiple different conferences, so we all agreed, after doing it multiple times and having such an amazing turnout, that we should re-record the entire conversation and have it on the podcast.

I’m so grateful for the three of them. They all actually join me on Super Bowl Sunday—I might add—to record this episode. I am going to really encourage you to drop down into your vulnerable self and listen to what they have to say, and note the validation and acknowledgment that they give throughout the episode. It is a deep breath. That’s what this episode is. 

Before we get into this show, let me just remind you again that we are recording live the Overcoming Depression course this weekend. On March 11th, March 18th, and March 25th, at 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time, I will be recording the Overcoming Depression course. I am doing it live this time. If you’re interested in coming on live as I record it, you can ask your questions, you can work along with me. There’ll be workbooks. I’ll be giving you a lot of strategies and a lot of tools to help you overcome depression. 

If you’re interested, go to CBTSchool.com/depression. We will be meeting again, three dates in March, starting tomorrow, the 11th of March, at 9:00 AM Pacific Time. You will need to sign up ahead of time. But if for any reason you miss one of them, you can watch the replay. The replays will be uploaded. You’ll have unlimited on-demand access to any of them. You’ll get to hear me answering people’s questions. This is the first time I’ve ever recorded a course live. I really felt it was so important to do it live because I knew people would have questions and I wanted to address them step by step in a manageable, bite-sized way. Again, CBTSchool.com/depression, and I will see you there. Let’s get over to this incredible episode. 

Again, thank you, Chris Trondsen. Thank you, Alegra Kastens. Thank you, Jessica Serber. It is an honor to call you my friend and my colleague. Enjoy everybody. 

The Emotional Toll of OCD

Kim: Welcome. This has been long, long. I’ve been waiting so long to do this and I’m so thrilled. This is my first time having multiple guests at once. I have three amazing guests. I’m going to let them introduce themselves. Jessica, would you like to go first?

Jessica: I’m Jessica Serber. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, and I have a practice specializing in the treatment of OCD and related anxiety and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders in Los Angeles. I’m super passionate about working with OCD because my sister has OCD and I saw her get her life back through treatment. So, I have so much hope for everyone in this treatment process.

Kim: Fantastic. So happy to have you. Chris?

Chris: Hi everyone. My name is Chris Trondsen. I am also a licensed marriage family therapist here in Orange County, California at a private group practice. Besides being a therapist, I also have OCD myself and body dysmorphic disorder, both of which I specialize in treatment. Because of that, I’m passionate about advocacy. I am one of the lead advocates for the International OCD Foundation, as well as on their board and the board of OCD Southern California, as well as some leadership on some of their special interest groups. Kind of full circle for me, have OCD and now treat it.

Kim: Amazing. Alegra?

Alegra: My name is Alegra Kastens and I am a licensed therapist in the states of California and New York. I’m the founder of the Center for OCD, Anxiety and Eating Disorders. Like Chris, I have lived experience with OCD, anxiety, eating disorders, and basically everything, so I’m very passionate. We got a lot going on up here. I’m really passionate about treating OCD, educating, advocating for the disorder, and that is what propelled me to pursue a career as a therapist and then also to build my online platform, @obsessivelyeverafter on Instagram.

GRIEF AND OCD

Kim: Amazing. We have done this presentation before, actually, multiple times over the years. I feel like an area that I want to drop into as deeply as we can today to really look at the emotional toll of having and experiencing and recovering from OCD. We’re going to have a real conversation style here. But first, we’ll follow the format that we’ve used in the past. Let’s first talk about grief and OCD because I think that that seems to be a lot of the reason we all came together to present on this. Alegra, would you talk specifically about some of the losses that result from having OCD? I know this actually was inspired by an Instagram post that you had put out on Instagram, so do you want to share a little bit about what those emotional losses are? 

Alegra: For sure. I think that number one, what a lot of people with OCD experience is what feels like a loss of identity. When OCD really attacks your values, attacks your core as a human being, whether it’s pedophile obsession, sexual orientation obsessions, harm obsessions, you really start to grieve the person that you once thought you were. Of course, nothing has actually changed about you, but because of OCD, it really feels like it has. In addition to identity, there’s lost relationships, there’s lost time, lost experiences. For me, I dropped out of my bachelor’s degree and I didn’t get the four years of undergrad that a lot of people experienced. I mean, living with OCD is one of the most debilitating, difficult things to do. And that means, if you’re fighting this battle and trying to survive, you probably are missing out on life and developmental milestones.

Kim: Right. Was that the case for you too, Chris?

Chris: Yeah. I actually host a free support group for families and one of the persons with OCD was speaking yesterday talking about how having OCD was single-handedly the most negatively impactful experience in his life. He is dealt with a lot of loss. I feel the same way. It’s just not something you could shake off and recover from in the sense of just pretending nothing happened. I know for me, the grief was hard. I mean, I had mapped out what I thought my life was going to look like. I think my first stage of grief, because I think it became two stages, my first, like Alegra said, was about the loss. I always wanted to go to college and be around people in my senior year, like make friends and things like that. It’s just my life became smaller and smaller. I became housebound. I missed out on normal activities, and six years of my life were pretty much spent alone. 

I think what Alegra also alluded to, which was the second layer of grief, was less about the things that I lost, but who I became. I didn’t recognize myself in those years with OCD. I think it’s hard to explain to somebody else what it’s like to literally not live as yourself. I let things happen to me or I did things that I would never do in the mind state that I am in now. I was always such a brave and go-for-it kind of person and confident and I just became a shell of myself. I grieve a lot of the years lost, a lot of the things I always wanted to do, and places I wanted to go. And then I grieve the person I became because it was nothing I ever thought I could become.

Kim: Jessica, will you speak also to just the events that people miss out on? I don’t know if you want to speak about what you see with your clients or even with your sibling, like just the milestones that they missed and the events they missed.

Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. My sister was really struggling the most with her OCD during middle school and high school. Those are such formative years, to begin with. I would say, she was on the fortunate end of the spectrum of being diagnosed relatively early on in her life. I mean, she definitely had symptoms from a very, very young age, but still, getting that diagnosis in middle school is so much before a lot of people get that. I mean, I work with people who aren’t diagnosed until their twenties, thirties, and sometimes even later. Different things that most adolescents would go through she didn’t. 

Speaking to the identity piece that Alegra brought up, a big part of her identity was being a sports fan. She was a diehard Clippers fan, and that’s how everyone knew her. It was like her claim to fame. She didn’t even want to go to Clippers games. My dad was trying to get tickets to try to get her excited about something to get out of the house. She missed certain events in high school because it was too anxiety-provoking to go and it was more comforting to know she could stay in the safety of the home. Their experiences all throughout the lifespan, I think that can be impacted. Even if you’re not missing out on them entirely, a lot of people talk about remembering those experiences as tainted by the memories of OCD, even if they got to go experience them.

Kim: Right. For me, as a clinician, I often hear two things. One is the client will say something to the likes of, “I’ve lost my way. I was going in this direction and I’ve completely lost the path I was supposed to go on.” I think that is a full grief process. I think we’ve associated grief with the death of people, but it’s not. It’s deeper than that and it’s about like you’re talking about, identity and events and occasions. 

The other thing that I hear is—actually, we can go totally off script here in terms of we’ve talked about this in the past separately—people think that once they’re recovered, they will live a really happy life and that they’ll feel happy now. Like, “Oh, the relief is here, I’ve recovered.”  But I think there is a whole stage of grief that follows during recovery and then after recovery. Do you have any thoughts on that, anybody? 

Alegra: Well, yeah. I think it reminds me a lot of even my own experience, but my client’s experiences of when you recover, there tends to be grief about life before OCD. If I’m being perfectly honest, my life will just never be what it was before OCD, and it’s different and wonderful in so many ways that maybe it wouldn’t be if I didn’t have OCD. But I’m laughing because when you were like, “I’m going to mark my calendar in July because you’re probably going to have a relapse,” then I have to deal with it every six months. My brain just goes off for like two weeks. I don’t know why it happens. It’s just my OCD brain, and there’s grief associated with that. I can go for six months and I have some intrusive thoughts, but it doesn’t really do anything to me to write back in it for two weeks. That’s something I have to deal with and I have to get to that acceptance place in the grieving process. I’m not going to have the brain that I did before OCD when I didn’t have a single unwanted sexual thought. That just isn’t happening. I think we think that we’re going to get to this place after recovery, and it’s like game over, I forget everything that happened in the past, but we have to remember that OCD can be traumatizing for people. Trauma is stored in the body. The brain is impacted and I think that we can carry that with us afterwards.

Kim: Right.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, everything that Alegra was saying—I’ll never forget. I always joke, but I thought when treatment was done, rainbows were going to shoot out and butterflies. I was going to jump on my very own unicorn and ride off to the sunset. But it was like a bomb had gone off and I had survived the blast, but everything around me was completely pulverized. I just remember thinking, what do I do now? I remember going on social media to look up some of my friends from high school because my OCD got really, really bad after high school. I just remember everybody was starting to date or marry or travel and move on and I’m like, “Great, I live in my grandma’s basement. I don’t have anything on my calendar. I’m not dating, I don’t have any friends. What do I do?” I was just completely like, “Okay, I don’t even know where to begin.” I felt so lost. Anything I did just didn’t feel right. Like Alegra said, there was so much aftermath that I had to deal with. I had to deal with the fact that I was lost and confused and I was angry and I had all these emotions. I had these memories of just driving around. 

As part of my OCD, I had multiple subtypes—sexual intrusive thoughts, harm thoughts. I remember contamination, stores around me would get dirty, so I’d be driving hours to buy products from non-dirty stores at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, crying outside of a store because they were closed or didn’t have the product I need, getting home and then my checking would kick in. You left something at the store, driving back. You just put yourself through all these different things that are just not what you would ever experience. 

I see it with my clients. One client sticks in mind who was in his eighties and after treatment, getting better. He wasn’t happy and he is like, “I’m so happy, Chris. You helped me put OCD in remission. But I now realize that I never got married because I was scared of change. I never left the house that I hated in the city I didn’t really like because I was afraid of what would happen if I moved.” He’s like, “I basically lived my OCD according to OCD’S rules and I’m just really depressed about that.” I know we’re going to talk about the positive sides and how to heal in the second half, but this is just really what OCD can ravish on our lives.

Kim: Right. 

Jessica: If I can add one thing too really quickly, something I really think is a common experience too is that once healing happens, even if people do get certain parts of their lives back and feel like they can function again in the ways that they want to, there’s always this sense of foreboding joy, that it feels good and I’m happy, but I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop all the time. Or what if I go back to how I was and I lose all my progress? Even when there are those periods of joy and happiness and fulfillment, they might also be accompanied with some anxiety and some what-ifs. Of course, we can work on that and should work on that in treatment too because we want to maximize those periods of joy as much as we can. But that’s something that I commonly see, that the anxiety sticks around just in different ways.

OCD, SHAME, & GUILT

Kim: Yeah, for sure. I see that very commonly too. Let’s talk now about OCD, shame, and guilt. I’ll actually go straight to you, Jessica, because I remember you speaking about this beautifully. Can you explain the difference between shame and guilt specifically related to how it may show up with OCD? 

Jessica: Yeah. I mean, they’re definitely related feelings but they are different. I think the simplest way to define the difference is guilt says, “I did something bad,” whereas shame says, “I am bad.” Shame is really an identity-based emotion and we see a lot of shame with any theme of OCD. It can show up in lots of different ways, but definitely with some of the themes that are typically classified as Pure O—the sexual intrusive thoughts or unwanted harm thoughts, scrupulosity, blasphemous thoughts. There can be a lot of shame around a person really identifying with their thoughts and what it means about them. Attaching that, meaning about what it means about them. And then of course, there can also be guilt, which I think feels terrible as well, but it’s like a shame light where it’s like, “I did something wrong by having this thought,” or just guilt for maybe something that they’ve thought or a compulsion that they’ve done because of their OCD. 

Kim: Yeah. I’ve actually also experienced a lot of clients saying they feel guilty because of the impact their OCD has had on their loved ones too. They’re suffering to the biggest degree, but they’re also carrying the guilt of like, “I’ve caused suffering to my family,” or “I’m a financial burden to my parents with the therapy and the psychiatrist.” I think that there’s that secondary guilt that shows up for a lot of people as well, which we can clump in as an outcome or a consequence or an experience of having OCD.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, right before you said this, Kim, I was thinking for me personally, that was literally what I was going to say. I have a younger sister. She’s a couple of years younger than me and I just put her through hell. She was one of the first people that just felt the OCD’s wrath because I was so stressed out. She and I shared a lot of the same spaces in the home, so we’d have a lot of fights. Also, when I was younger, because she looks nothing like me—she actually looks more like you, Kim, blonde hair, blue eyes—people didn’t know we were related. People would always say things like, “Oh, is that your girlfriend?” So then I’d have a lot of ancestral intrusive thoughts that caused a lot of harm to me, so I’d get mad at her. Because I was young, I didn’t know better. And then just the hell I put my mom through. 

I always think about just like, wow, once again, that’s not who Chris is. I would jump in front of eight bullets for both my mom and my sister. I remember one time I needed something because I felt dirty, and my mom hit our spending money so that if there was an emergency. My sister knew where it was and she wouldn’t give it to me. I remember taking a lighter and lighting it and being like, “I’ll burn your hair if you don’t give me the money,” because I was so desperate to buy it because that’s how intense the OCD was. I remember she and I talking about that and it just feels like a different human. Once again, it’s more than just guilt. It’s shame of who I had become because of it and not even recognizing the boy I was now compared to the man I am now, way than man now.

OCD AND ANGER

Kim: One thing we haven’t talked a lot about, but Chris, you just spoke to it, and I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot. Let’s talk about OCD and anger because I think that is another emotional toll of OCD. A lot of clients I’ve had—even just recently, I’ve been thinking about this a lot—sometimes instead of doing compulsions, they have an anger outburst or maybe as well as compulsions. Does anyone want to speak to those waves of frustration and anger that go around these thoughts that we have or intrusive whatever obsessions in any way, but in addition, the compulsions you feel you have to do when you have OCD?

Alegra: I feel like sometimes there can be maybe a deeper, more painful emotion that’s underneath that anger, which can be shame or it can be guilt, but it feels like anger is maybe easier to express. But also, there just is inherent anger that comes up with having to live with this. I remember one time in my own personal therapy, my therapist was trying to relate and she pulled out this picture that she had like an, I don’t know, eight-year-old client with OCD and was like, “She taps herself a lot.” I screamed at her at that moment. I was like, “Put that fucking picture away, and don’t ever show that to me again. I do not want to be compared to an eight-year-old who taps himself, like I will tap myself all day fucking long, so long as I don’t have these sexually unwanted thoughts about children.” I was so angry at that moment because it just felt like what I was dealing with was so much more taboo and shameful. I was angry a lot of the time. I don’t think we can answer the question of, why? Why did I have to experience this? Why did someone else not have to experience this? And that anger is valid. 

The other thing that I want to add is that anger does not necessarily mean that we are now going to act on our obsessions because I think clients get very afraid of that. I remember one time I was so fucking pissed at my coworker. He was obnoxious when I worked in PR, and I was so mad at him, I had to walk outside and regulate. And then instantly, of course, my brain went, “You want his kid to die?” or whatever it was. I felt like, oh my God, I must really want this to happen because I’m mad at him. In terms of anger, we can both feel angry and not align with unwanted thoughts that arise.

CAN OCD CAUSE ANGER ISSUES? 

Kim: Right. OCD can attack the emotions that you experience, like turn it back on you. It’s funny, I was doing a little bit of research for this and I typed in ‘OCD in anger.’ I was looking to see what was out there. What was so fascinating to me is, you know when you type something in on Google, it shows all of the other things that are commonly typed in. At the very top was ‘Can OCD cause anger issues?’ I was like, that is so interesting, that obviously, loved ones or people with OCD are searching for this because it’s so normal, I think, to have a large degree of just absolute rage over what you’ve been through, how much you’ve suffered, just the torment and what’s been lost, as we’ve already talked about. I just thought that was really fascinating to see, that that’s obviously something that people are struggling with. 

Chris: When you think about it, when we’re struggling with OCD, the parts of our brain that are trying to protect us are on fire or on high alert. If you always think about that, I always think of a feral dog. If you’re trying to get him help, then he starts to bite. That’s how I honestly felt. My anger was mostly before I was diagnosed, and once again, like I said, breaking things at home, screaming, yelling at my family, intimidating them, and stuff. I know that once again, that wasn’t who I am at the course. When I finally got a diagnosis, I know for me, the anger dissipated. I was still angry, but the outbursts and the rage, and I think the saddest thing I hear from a lot of my clients is they tell me, I think people think I’m this selfish and spoiled and bratty and angry person. I’m not. I just cannot get a break. 

I always remind parents that as your loved one or spouses, et cetera—as your loved one gets better, that anger will subside. It won’t vanish, it won’t disappear, it may change into different emotions, like Alegra was saying, to guilt and to shame and loss of identity. But that rage a lot of times is because we just don’t know what to do and we feel attacked constantly with OCD. 

Kim: Yeah.

Jessica: I also want to validate the piece that anger is a really natural and normal stage of grief. I like that you’re differentiating, Chris, between the rage that a lot of people experience in it versus maybe just a different type of anger that can show up after when you recognize how—I think, Alegra, you brought up—we can’t answer the question of, why did this happen to me? Or “I missed out on all these times or years of my life that I can’t get back.” Anger is not a problem. It’s not an issue when it shows up like that. It’s actually a very healthy natural part of grief. We want to obviously process it in ways that really honor that feeling and tend to that feeling in a helpful way. I just wanted to point out that part as well.

DO YOU CONSIDER HAVING OCD A TRAUMATIC EVENT?   

Kim: Yeah, very, very helpful. This is for everybody and you can chime in, but I wanted to just get a poll even. Alegra spoke on this a little bit already. Do you consider having OCD a traumatic event?

Alegra: A hundred thousand percent. I’m obviously not going to trauma dump on all of you all, but boy, would I love to. I have had quite a few of what’s classified as big T traumas, which I even hate the differentiation of big T, sexual assault, abuse, whatever. I have had quite a bit of big T traumas and I have to say that OCD has been the most traumatizing thing I have been through and I think we’ll ever go through. It bothers me how much I think gatekeeping can happen in our community. Like, no, it’s only trauma if you’ve been assaulted, it’s only trauma if X, Y, and Z. I have a lot of big T trauma and I’m here to say that OCD hands down, like I would go through all of that big T trauma 15 times over to not have OCD, 100%. I think Chris can just add cherries to the cake, whatever that phrase is.

Chris: Yeah. This is actually how the title, the Emotional Toll of OCD, came about. We had really talked about this. I was really inspired mainly by Alegra talking about the trauma of OCD and I was like, finally, someone put the right word because I always felt that other words didn’t really speak to my personal experience and the experience I see with clients. We had submitted it for a talk and it got denied. I remember they liked it so much that they literally had a meeting with you and I, Kim, and we’re like, “We actually really love this. We just got to figure out a way to change it.” Like Alegra was saying, a lot of the people that were part of a trauma special interest group just said, “Look, we can’t be using the word ‘trauma’ like this.” But we had a good talk about it. It’s like, I do believe it’s trauma.

I always feel weird talking about him because sometimes he listens to my stuff, but still, I’ll say it anyways. But my dad will hopefully be the first to admit it. But there were a lot of physical altercations between he and I that were inappropriate—physical abuse, emotional abuse, yelling, screaming. Like Alegra said, I would relive that tenfold than go through the depths of my OCD again where I attempted suicide, where I isolated, where I didn’t even recognize myself. 

If ‘trauma’ isn’t the correct word, we only watered it down to emotional toll just to make DSM-5 folks happy. But if ‘trauma’ isn’t the word, I don’t know what is, because like I said, trauma was okay to describe the pain I went through childhood, but in my personal experience, it failed in comparison to the trauma that I went through with OCD. 

Alegra: I also want to add something. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I’m thinking about the DSM definition, I think it’s defining post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t think it’s describing trauma specifically. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s criteria for PTSD. I will be the first to say and none of you have to agree. I think that you can have PTSD from living with OCD. DSM-wise diagnostically, you can’t. But I think when people are like, “Well, that’s not the definition of trauma in the DSM,” no, they’re defining PTSD. It’s like, yeah, some people have anxiety and don’t have an anxiety disorder. You can experience trauma and not have full-blown PTSD. That’s my understanding of it.

Kim: Yeah. It’s funny because I don’t have OCD, so I am an observer to it. What I think is really interesting is I can be an observer to someone who’s been through, like you’ve talked about, a physical assault or a sexual assault and so forth, and they may report I’m having memories of the event and wake up with the physiology of my heart beating and thoughts racing. But then I’ll have clients with OCD who will have these vivid memories of having to wash their hands and the absolute chaos of, “I can’t touch this. Oh my God, please don’t splash the water on me,” Memories of that and nightmares of that and those physiological experiences. They’re remembering the events that they felt so controlled and so stuck in. That’s where for me, I was, with Chris, really advocating for. These moments imprint our brain right in such a deep way.

Alegra: Yeah. I’m reading this book, not to tell everyone to buy this book, but it’s by Dr. Bruce Perry and he does a bunch of research on trauma and the brain. Basically, the way that he describes it is like when we experience something and it gets associated. Let’s say, for instance, there are stores that I could go to and I could still feel that very visceral feeling that I did when I was suffering. Part of that is how trauma is stored in the brain. Even if you logically know I’m not in that experience now, I’m not in the war zone or I’m not in the depths of my OCD suffering, just the store, let’s say, being processed through the lower part of your brain can bring up all of those associations. So, it does do something to the brain.

Kim: Right. 

Chris: Absolutely. I was part of a documentary and it was the first time I went back to the home that I had attempted suicide, and the police got called the hospital and all that. It was a bad choice. They didn’t push me into it. It was my idea because I haven’t gone back there, had no clue how I’d react and I broke down. I mean, broke down in a dry heaving way that I never knew I could and we had to stop filming and we left. Where I was at my worst of OCD was there and also at my grandma’s house because that’s where I moved right after the suicide attempt. I’d have people around me, and still going down to the basement area that I lived in. It is very hard. I rarely do it. So, I have a reaction. To me, it was like, if that isn’t once again trauma, I don’t know what is.

Alegra: It is. 

Chris: Exactly. I’ll never forget there was a woman that was part of a support group I ran. She was in her seventies and she had gone through cancer twice. I remember her telling the group that she’s like, “I’ll go through cancer a third time before I’ll ever go back to my worst of OCD.” Obviously, we’re not downplaying these other experiences—PTSD, trauma, cancer, horrible things, abuse, et cetera. What we’re saying is that OCD takes a lasting imprint and it’s something that I have not been able to shake. I’ve done so much advocacy, so much therapy, so much as a therapist and I don’t still struggle, but the havoc it has on my life, that’s something I think is going to be imprinted for life.

Alegra: Forever.

Jessica: Also, part of the definition of trauma is having a life-threatening experience. What you’re speaking to, Chris, you had a suicide attempt during that time. Suicidality is common with OCD. Suicidal ideation, it’s changing your life. I think Alegra, you said, “I’ll never have the life or the brain that I had before OCD.” These things that maybe it’s not, well, some of them are actually about real confrontation with death, but these real life-changing, life-altering experiences that potentially also drive some people to have thoughts or feelings about wanting to not be alive anymore. I just think that element is there.

Alegra: That’s so brilliant, Jessica, because that is so true. If we’re thinking about it being life-threatening and life-altering, it was life-threatening for me. I got to the point where I was like, “If something doesn’t change, I will kill myself. I will.” That is life-threatening to a person. I would be driving on the freeway like, “Do I just turn the car? Do I just turn it now? Because I was so just fucking done with what was happening in my brain.”

Kim: It feels crisis.

Alegra: Yeah.

Kim: It’s like you’re experiencing a crisis in that moment, and I think that that’s absolutely valid.

Alegra: It’s an extended crisis. For me, it was a crisis of three to four years. I never had a break. Not when I was sleeping. I mean, never.

Chris: I was just going to add that I hear in session almost daily, people are like, “If I just don’t wake up tomorrow, I’m fine. I’d never do anything, but if I just don’t wake up tomorrow, I’m fine.” We know this is the norm. The DSM talks about 50% of individuals with OCD have suicidal ideation, 25% will attempt. This is what people are going through as they enter treatment or before treatment. They just feel like, “If I just don’t wake up or if something were to happen to me, I’d actually be at peace with it.” It’s a really alarming number.

THE EMOTIONAL TOLL OF OCD TREATMENT

Kim: Right. Let’s move. I love everything that you guys are saying and I feel like we’ve really acknowledged the emotional toll really, the many ways that it universally impacts a person emotionally and in all areas of their lives. I’m wondering if you guys could each, one at a time or bounce it off each other, share what you believe are some core ways in which we can manage these emotional tolls, bruises left, or scars left from having OCD? Jessica, do you want to go first? 

Jessica: Sure. I guess the first thing that comes to mind is—I’ll speak from the therapist perspective—if you’re a therapist specializing in treating OCD, make sure you leave room to talk about these feelings that we’re bringing up. Of course, doing ERP and doing all of the things to treat OCD is paramount and we want to do that first and foremost if possible. But if you’re not also leaving room for your client to process this grief, process through and challenge their shame, just hold space for the anger and maybe talk about it. Let your client have that anger experience in a safe space. We’re missing a huge, huge part of that person’s healing if we’re leaving that out. Maybe I’ll piggyback on what you two say, but that’s just the baseline that I wanted to put out there.

Chris: I could go next. I would say the first thing is what Jess said. We have to treat the whole person. I think it’s great when a client’s Y-BOCS score has gone down and symptomology is not a daily impact. However, all the things that we talked about, we aren’t unicorns. This is what many of our clients are going through and there has to be space for the therapist to validate, to address, and to help heal. I would say the biggest thing that I believe moves you past where we’ve been talking about is re-identity formation. We just don’t recognize until you get better how nearly every single decision we make is based off of our OCD fears, that some way or another, what we listen to, how we speak, what direction we drive, what we buy. I mean, everything we do is, will the OCD be okay with this? Will this harm me, et cetera? 

One of the things I do with all my clients before I complete treatment is I start to help them figure out who they are. I say, “Let’s knock everything we know. What are the parts of yourself that you organically feel are you and you love? Let’s flourish those. Let’s water those. Let’s help those grow. What are some other things that you would be doing if OCD hadn’t completely ransacked your life? Do you spend time with family? Are you somebody that wants to give back to communities? What things do you like to do when you’re alone?” I help clients and it was something I did after my own treatment, like re-fall in love and be impressed with yourself and start to rebuild.

I tell clients, one of the things that helped me flip it and I try to do it with them is instead of looking at it like, “This is hard, this is tough,” look at it as an opportunity. We get to take that pause, reconnect with ourselves and start to go in a direction that is absolutely going to move as far away from the OCD selves as possible, but also to go to the direction of who we are. Obviously, for me, becoming a therapist and advocate is what’s helped me heal, and not everybody will go that route. But when they’re five months, six months, a year after the hard part of their treatment and they’re doing the things they always picture they could do and reconnecting with the people that they love, I start to see their light grow again and the OCD starts to fade. That’s really the goal. 

Alegra: I think something that I’ll add—again, I don’t want to be the controversial one, but maybe I will be—is there might be, yes. Can I get canceled after this in the community? There might be some kind of trauma work that somebody might need to do after OCD treatment, after symptoms are managed, and this is where we need to find nuance. Obviously, treatments like EMDR are not evidence-based for OCD, but if somebody has been really traumatized by OCD, maybe there is some kind of somatic experience, some kind of EMDR, or some kind of whatever it might be to really help work on that emotional impact that might still be affecting the person. It’s important of course to find a therapist who understands OCD, who isn’t reassuring you and you’re falling back into your symptoms. But I have had clients successfully go through trauma therapy for the emotional impact OCD had and said it was tremendously helpful. That might be something to consider as well. If you do all the behavioral work and you still feel like, “I am really in the trenches emotionally,” we might need to add something else in.

Chris: I actually don’t think that’s controversial, Alegra. I think that what you’re speaking--

Alegra: I don’t either, but a lot of clinicians do.

Jessica: No, I agree. I think a lot of people will, and it’s been a part of my recovery. I don’t talk about a lot for that very reason. But after I was done with treatment, I didn’t feel like I needed an OCD therapist anymore. I was doing extremely well, but all the emotions we’d been talking about, I was still experiencing. I found a clinician nearby because I was going on a four-hour round trip for treatment. I just couldn’t go back to my therapist because of that. She actually worked with a lot of people that lost their lifestyle because of gambling. I went to her and I said, “What really spoke to me is how you help people rebuild their lives. I don’t need to talk about OCD. If I need to, I’ll go back to my old therapist. I need to figure out how to rebuild my life.” That’s really what she did. She helped me work through a lot of the trauma with my dad and even got my dad to come to a session and work through that. We worked through living in the closet for my sexual orientation for so long and how hard coming out was because I came out while I was in the midst of OCD. It was a pretty horrible coming out experience. She helped me really work through that, work through the time lost and feeling behind my peers and I felt like a whole person leaving. I decided, as a clinician, I have to do that for my clients. I can’t let my clients leave like I felt I left. It was no foul to my therapist. We just didn’t talk about these other things. 

Now what I’ll say as a clinician is, if I’m working with a client and I feel like I could be the one to help them, I’ll keep them with me. I also know my limitations. Like Alegra was saying, if they had the OCD went down so other traumas came to surface and they’ve dealt with molestation or something like that, I know my limitations, but what I will make sure to do is refer to a clinician that I think can help them because once again, I think treating the whole client is so important. 

Kim: Yeah. There’s two things I’ll bring up in addition because I agree with everything you’re saying. I don’t think it’s controversial. In fact, I often will say to my staff who see a lot of my clients, we want to either be doing, like Jessica said, some of the processing as we go or really offer after ERPs. “Do you need more support in this process of going back to the person you want?” That’s a second level of treatment that I think can be super beautiful. As you’re going too with exposures and so forth, you’re asking yourself those questions like, what do I value? Take away OCD, what would I do? A lot of times, people are like, “I have no idea. I have really no idea,” like Chris then. I think that you can do it during treatment. You can also do it after, whichever feels best for you and your clinician. 

The other thing that I find shows up for my patients the most is they’ll bring up the shame and the guilt, or they’ll bring up the anger, they’ll bring up the grief. And then there’s this heavy layer of some judgment for having it. There’s this heavy layer as if they don’t deserve to have these emotions. Probably, the thing I say the most is, “It makes complete sense that you feel that way.” I think that we have to remember that. That every emotion that is so strong and almost dysregulating, it makes complete sense that you feel that way given what you’re going through. 

I would just additionally say, be super compassionate and non-judgmental for these emotional waves that you’re going to have to ride. I mean, think about the grief. This is the other thing. We don’t go in and then process the grief and then often you’re running. It’s a wave. It’s a process. It’s a journey. It’s going to keep coming and going. I think it’s this readjustment on our thinking, like this is the life goal, the long-term practice now. It’s not a one-and-done. Do you guys have thoughts?

Jessica: I think as clinicians, validating that these are absolutely normal experiences and you deserve to be feeling this way is important because I think that sometimes, I don’t think there’s ill intent, but clinicians might gaslight their clients in a certain way by saying, “This isn’t traumatic. This is not trauma. You can feel sad, but it is absolutely not a trauma,” and not validating that for a person can be really painful. I think as clinicians, we need to be open to the emotional impact that OCD has on a person and validate that so we’re not sitting there saying, “Sorry, you can’t use that word. This is not your experience. You can be sad, you can be whatever, but it’s not trauma,” because I have seen that happen.

Kim: Or a clinician saying, “It’s not grief because no one died.”

Jessica: Yeah. It was just hard. That was it. Get over it. 

Kim: Or look at how far you’ve come. Even that, it’s a positive thing to say. It’s a positive thing to say, but I think what we’re all saying is, very much, it makes complete sense. What were you going to say, Jessica? Sorry.

Jessica: No. I just wanted to point out this one nuance that I see come up and that I think is important to catch, which is that sometimes there can be grief or shame or all these emotions that we’re talking about, but sometimes those emotions can also become the compulsion themselves at times. Shala Nicely has a really, really good article about this, about how depression itself can become a compulsion, or I’ve seen clients engage in what I refer to as stewing in guilt or excessive guilt or self-punishment. What we want to differentiate is, punishing yourself by stewing in guilt is actually providing some form of covert reassurance about the obsessions. Sometimes we need to process the true emotional experiences that are happening as a result of OCD, but we also want to make sure that we’re on the lookout for self-punishment compulsions and things like that that can mask, or I don’t know. That can come out in response to those feelings, but ultimately are feeding the OCD still. I just wanted to point out that nuance, that if someone feels like, “I’m doing all this processing of my feelings with my therapist, but I’m not getting any better or I’m actually feeling worse,” we want to look at, is there a sneaky compulsion happening there? 

Chris: I was just going to quickly add two things. One, I think what you were saying, Kim, with your clients, I see all the time. “I shouldn’t feel this way. It’s not okay for me to feel this way. There’s people out there that are going through bigger traumas.” For some reason, I feel society gives a hierarchy of like, “Oh, if you’re going through this you can grieve for this much, but we’re going to grief police you if you’re going through this. That’s much down here.” So, my clients will feel guilty. My brother lost an arm when he was younger. How dare I feel bad about the time lost with OCD? I always tell my clients, there’s no such thing as grief police and your experience is yours. We don’t need to compare or contrast it to others because society already does that.

And then second, I’m going to throw in a little plug for Kim. I feel as a clinician, it’s my responsibility to keep absorbing things that I think will help my client. Your book that really talks about the self-compassion component, I read that from cover to cover. One thing that I’ve used when we’re dealing with this with my clients is saying like, “We got to change our internal voice. Your internal voice has been one that’s been frightened, small, scared, angry for so long. We got to change that internal voice to one that roots for you that has you get up each day and tackle the day.” If a client is sitting there saying that they shouldn’t feel okay, I always ask them, “What kind of voice would you use to your younger brother or sister that you feel protective about? Would you knock down their experience? No, you would hold that space for them. What if we did that for you? It may feel odd, but this is something that I feel you need at this time.” Typically, when they start using a more self-compassionate tone, they start to feel like they’re healing. So, that’s something that we got to make sure they’re doing as well.

OCD AND DEPRESSION

Kim: Yeah. Thank you for saying that. One thing we haven’t touched on, and I will just quickly bring it up too, is I think secondary depression is a normal part of having OCD as well and is a part of the emotional toll. Sometimes either that depression can impact your ability to recover, or once you’ve gone through treatment, you’re still not hopeful about the future. You’re still feeling hopeless and helpless about the way the world is and the way that your brain functions in certain stresses. I would say if that is the case, also don’t be afraid to bring up to your clinician. Like, I actually am concerned. I might have some depression if they haven’t picked up on it. Because as clinicians, we know there’s an emotional toll, we forget to assess for depression. That’s something else just to consider.

Chris: Yeah. I’m a stats nerd and I think it’s 68% of the DSM, people with OCD have a depressive disorder, and 76% have an anxiety disorder. I always wonder, how can you have OCD and not be depressed? I was extremely depressed when my OCD was going on, and I think it’s because of how it ravishes your life and takes you away from the things you care about the most. And then the things that would make you happy to get you out of the depression, obviously, you can’t do. I will say the nice thing is, typically, what I see, whether it’s through medication or not medication, but the treatment itself—what I see is that as people get better from OCD, if their depression did come from having OCD, a lot of it lifts, especially as they start to re-engage in life.

Kim: All right. I’m looking at the time and I am loving everything you say. I’d love if you could each go around, tell us where we can hear more about you. If there’s any final word that you want to say, I’m more than happy for you to take the mic. Jessica?

Jessica: I’ll start. I think I said in the introduction, but I have a private practice in Los Angeles. It’s called Mindful CBT California. My website is MindfulCBTCalifornia.com. You can find some blogs and a contact page for me there. I hope to see a lot of you at the IOCDF conference this year. I love attending those, so I’ll be there. That’s it for me.

Kim: Chris?

Alegra: Like I said, if you’re in the Southern California area, make sure to check out OCD SoCal. I am on the board of that or the International OCD Foundation, I’m on the board. I’m always connected at events through that. You can find me on my social media, which is just my name, @ChrisTrondsen. I currently work at the Gateway Institute in Orange County, California, so you can definitely find me there. My email is just my name, ChrisTrondsen@GatewayOCD.com. I would say the final thought that I want to leave, first and foremost, is just what I hope you got from this podcast is that all those other mixed bags of emotions that you’re experiencing are normal. We just want to normalize that for you, and make sure as you’re going through your recovery journey that you and your clinician address them, because I feel much more like a whole person because I was able to address those. You’re not alone. Hopefully, you got from that you’re not alone.

Kim: Alegra?

Alegra: You can find me @obsessivelyeverafter on Instagram. I also have a website, AlegraKastens.com, where you can find my contact info. You can find my Ask Alegra workshop series that I do once a month. I also just started a podcast called Sad Girls Who Read, so you can find me there with my co-host Erin Kommor, who also has OCD. My final words would probably be, I know we talked about a lot of really dark stuff today and how painful OCD can be, but it absolutely can get so much better. I would say that I am 95% better than I was when I first started suffering. It’s brilliant and it’s beautiful, and I never thought that would be the case. Yes, you’ll hear from me in July, Kim, but other than that, I feel like I do have a very-- Kim’s like, “Oh, will I?”

Kim: I’ve scheduled you in.

Alegra: She’s like, “I have seven months to prep for this.” But other than that, I would say that my life is like, I never would’ve dreamed that I could be here, so it is really possible.

Kim: Yeah.

Chris: Amen. Of that.

Kim: Yeah. Thank you all so much. This has been so meaningful for me to have you guys on. I’m really grateful for your time and your advocacy. Thank you.

Chris: Thanks, Kim. Thanks for having us. 

Alegra: Thanks, Kim.

Mar 6, 2023

I can barely hold in my excitement!

We have a three-day live event where I will teach a new course called Overcoming Depression



Overcoming Depression

I have had all of this passion show up in my body after seeing loved ones and clients struggle and after you guys repeatedly asking for a course on depression.  

Our new online course called Overcoming Depression is finally here. 

I will record it live on March 11th, 18th and 25th from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. 

If you are interested, please join me, and I will teach you LIVE, and you can ask all your questions.

NOTE: This course will not be considered therapy. Just like all of our courses, it will be educational. 

Overcoming Depression will be me teaching you the skills I teach my clients when it comes to Psychoeducation and strategies and tools to overcome depression.   

Head over to CBTSCHOOLcom/depression to sign up!  

I am so excited to have you guys join me live. 

  • Ask your questions in the question box. 
  • We will tackle not only your negative thinking but also
    • your behaviors
    • your motivation
    • Self-compassion
    • Long-term recovery techniques 

 I'm so excited and hope to see you there.
SIGN UP at CBTschool.com/depression

Mar 3, 2023

OCD TREATMENT OPTIONS 

Today, we have Elizabeth McIngvale and we are talking all about different OCD treatment options. 

Elizabeth (Liz) McIngvale is the Director of the McLean OCDI Houston. She has an active clinical and research and leadership role there. McLean OCDI is a treatment center for people with OCD and she talks extensively about different OCD treatment options in this episode. She’s the perfect one to talk to in this episode about knowing when you need a higher level of care, particularly related to OCD. 



In this episode, we walk through the different levels of care from self-help all the way through to inpatient facilities. Elizabeth spoke so beautifully about how to know when you’re ready for the next step of care, what to look out for, what you should be interested in, and questions you should ask. This is such an important episode. I’m actually blown away that I haven’t addressed it yet, but I’m so grateful we got to talk about it today.

OCD TREATMENT OPTIONS

Elizabeth McIngvale is also a lecturer at Harvard Medical School. She treats obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety disorders. She’s got a special interest in mental health stigma and access to mental health care. It was actually such an educational episode and I felt like it actually made me a better supervisor to my staff and a better educator as well. You’re going to love this episode if you’re really wanting to understand and take the stigma out of increasing your care if that’s something that you need. 

That being said, I’m going to let you listen to Elizabeth’s amazing words, and I hope you enjoy this episode just as much as I did. Have a great day, everybody.

Kimberley Quinlan:  Well, welcome, Liz McIngvale. I'm so excited to have you on for two reasons. Number one, I really want to talk about giving people information about OCD treatment options, but I also understand that you can also bring in a personal experience here. Anytime, someone can share their personal experience, just lights me up. So thank you for being here.

Elizabeth McIngvale: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here and yeah, I hope that both my personal but also professional kind of background in this arena might help guide. Some individuals who are kind of wondering what treatment do they need right now and and what does treatment for them look like

Kimberley Quinlan: Wonderful. Do you want to share a little bit about your history with OCD and your story as much as you want to share?

Elizabeth McIngvale: For sure. Yeah, I'll try to not take up too much time but you know, basically, I grew up here in Houston, Texas, where I'm from, and was diagnosed with OCD right around 12. I started showing lots of different symptoms prior on and off, but nothing that was disruptive nothing. That really would have warranted a diagnosis. I would do things like track the weather, or every time I read a book, I would start at page one because I didn't like the feeling if I picked up in between and things like that…

Elizabeth McIngvale: but nothing was really out of the norm normal in the sense that I was still doing okay. And academically you know, Relationship-wise and I was functioning well until I wasn't, you know, until my intrusive thoughts, got louder and the disruption became more and more severe. Here in Houston, we have the largest medical center in the world and we are known for our healthcare and so you would think access to good care would be really accessible, but unfortunately, it just wasn't and granted, this was a long time ago, almost 20 years ago but we really started searching for treatment here in Houston and, you know, I was lucky enough that pretty early on I got  a diagnosis and for most of us in the OCD world, we know that that's rare for it to happen that soon. So that was great. That was a huge blessing for me, however we couldn't find good treatment. Every provider would say things like we've never seen a case like this. We don't know how to treat this and there's not help available. You guys should assume that Liz live in a mental health hospital, the rest of her life. And so my parents were just really struggling with What do I do and How do I help my child. And so they kept researching and kept trying to figure it out and actually they got lucky enough that they stumbled across the newspaper article and in that newspaper article talked about an inpatient treatment center at the time which was called the Meninger Clinic and how they had an OCD program. There was a little bitty excerpt and immediately my dad, called my mom, they ended up calling Meninger and learning more and I ended up going to the Meninger clinic when I was 15. I went three days after my 15th birthday, I'll never forget and I talk about this a lot because my treatment stay at Meninger was the first step to my life being changed. It was the first step to me getting appropriate treatment. It didn't cure me, you know, I want to be honest about that. I think sometimes we think, okay, we go do that. We either like get cured or We don't. And, for those of us who live with OCD, we understand that management of our illnesses different than a cure, right? It was a lot of work, but it was also the beginning of a journey where I had to learn to do my own treatment and I had to learn to become my own therapist. And as much as the treatment was super successful for me, I was there for three months and my life changed. I went from being suicidal being hopeless, and not being able to function at all six to eight hour showers and completely, homebound completely riddled by rituals, to being a kid who could fully function. I was able to go back to school. Take five minute showers, do things I never thought I could do again. At the same time, I didn't realize that I had to still take ownership of my illness, I think I thought Oh like the ownership is, I did treatment and that's what it meant. Not that I needed to keep engaging in treatment. And I talk about that because I did relapse later, I ended up going… I ended up doing some outpatient in between and then back to impatient again. And for me, I had to kind of learn what level of care works for me? What does that look like? And how do I manage my illness? And to this day, I still go to outpatient therapy. It's still a big part of my life. Am I actively doing OCD work every week? No I'm doing other stuff right? Family system and boundary setting and things that are important in my life that are tough. But it's been a journey even for myself personally, to know what level of care do I need and at what point. And I think what's really interesting is that when I was 15 I would have told you I'm not going to treatment. My parents had to take me involuntarily and it was a pretty awful day the day they took me to treatment. And, you know, I say this because a lot of times when people hear my story they think Oh, well, y'all did everything right and like, it was just this, like, beautiful path to recovery. That's like, no. It was really messy and it is messy and that's okay. There is no perfect way for us to get treatment in a way that can change our life. And so I really want us to think more about the outcome and what treatment might mean to us versus being super close-minded about the process,…

00:05:00

Kimberley Quinlan:  Right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: because I think a lot of times we have so much anxiety around I want to go to intensive treatment. I don't want to leave my life. I don't want to put things on hold I don't want to go to this hospital like setting if that's where I'm going and really, it's not about that. It's about what might it give us in the long run,  right?

Kimberley Quinlan: Right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: And just that chance at freedom that maybe outpatient care can no longer do.

Kimberley Quinlan: Right? So for the folks who are new here and if just new to us let's sort of just because I feel like I really want to cover this as as much as we can. When you went to Meninger what was the correct OCD treatment in which you received like was it,…

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yeah. Totally.

Kimberley Quinlan: can you kind of give us a little bit of a view of what that looks like?

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yeah. So before Meninger I had gone to outpatient providers and…

Elizabeth McIngvale: I remember playing the  board game life with a therapist once and I crossed the bridge and I remember her saying Liz, how does that feel? And I was like Well I don't know. Like How does it feel to you? Like what? I remember going to my mom and I was young, right? I was adolescent. I said Mom like this isn't working like we're playing the  board game life, I'm not getting better, like this is not therapy and my mom was just like, well, I don't know, she didn't know, she didn't know what she should be doing or not. And so I got to Meninger and I remember there were three things that really put things in perspective for me upon arriving. The first was I met someone else like myself. I met a young girl named Amy who struggled with an eating disorder and OCD and I remember I was crying. I was vomiting. I was so sick. That was so anxious about being there and all she said to me is it's okay. I cried too. And it was the first time in my life. I met someone else like me. And for those of you who know, you know, the the value I believe advocacy has in the OCD world is because we need to feel part of a community, even when we're struggling, And so I got that but it was the first time in my life. I remember, I sat down with my therapists in this conference room and you know, I didn't believe in therapy, candidly. I had gotten really bad therapy for a long time and I just continued to get worse. So I didn't think therapy could help me. I didn't think I could get better and I really was starting to accept that I would just live a life with bad OCD forever and then I would just live in this basically, in the state of misery. And I remember I sat down and for the first time My provider starts asking me all these questions, and he doesn't seem scared. He's like, Oh yeah, no problem. Okay, tell me about this. Tell me about that. And there was this like, not egotistical like this, very humble confidence that. Oh, yeah. Like I know how to treat you, and I was just like, what? And I remember, He said, Yeah, we're gonna do Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP)  I've done this before. You're not the worst case. I've seen, you know, I know how to treat this. I've done all in, It was the first time I realized, Oh my gosh, someone actually knows how to help me.

Elizabeth McIngvale:  And so my entire treatment was based on exposure and response prevention and you know I think ERPs come a long way as somebody who now works in this field and runs a program doing, you know, runs at the same program. We don't do ERP the same way we did when I did it. Right. When I did ERP, it was an older school model. It was a very habituation model. I remember holding contaminated sweaters and just sitting there for an hour or two, right? We don't do that anymore, but there's something about the basis, right? The core of the treatment hasn't changed and it's it's what changed my life and it's it's really important that I will say, I can't imagine what it had been like if I would have gone to an impatient or a residential setting that wasn't OCD specific and that wasn't doing evidence-based care. I would have believed in treatment even last and I would have been even more helpless.

Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah, there is so much beauty to being with someone who's like, Oh yeah, I've had a worst case than you like. I've had so many clients say like that is the best thing anyone has ever said to me.

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yeah. Yeah. Like okay not like Oh like I mean literally providers would say to me in Houston like we've never seen a case of severe. We don't know how to help you and it's like, Well what? So like What do I do?

Kimberley Quinlan: Right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: You know, Can you try and they're like, we don't know, we don't know how to try.

Kimberley Quinlan: Right, right? I'm so grateful that you had that experience. This amazing. So, Let's sort of fast forward to now. You of course are an OCD specialist, we know this an amazing one. I first want to look at the term outpatient For some people, they don't know what that means. So what does OCD outpatient treatment look like?

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yeah.

OCD TREATMENT ONLINE

Kimberley Quinlan: And would you also speak to now since covid? We also have like an online version of that so you want to elaborate on OCD treatment online? 

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yeah, there's so many. So actually, let's have you start first by describing self-help because I think it's. So I think it's really important When we think about levels of care to think about the continuum, right? I look at it as like,…

Kimberley Quinlan: Right. Yep.

OCD SELF HELP

Elizabeth McIngvale: there's self-help options, there's outpatient options and then there's intensive option.

Elizabeth McIngvale:  Yeah.

00:10:00

Kimberley Quinlan: Beautiful, yeah. Like thats the epitome of me, like even with this podcast, right? How can we provide free or not one one one treat metn for people or in the case of CBT School, how can we  help you to do it on your own?  RIght, so there are sort of self lead courses  or we have the self-compassion workbook for OCD, which is ultimately me as a clinician saying, If I was with a client, this is the steps I would take. So, that's the first step and we offer that all the time. And and I think I don't really actually think we've got that much research on it yet. I think we're in the early stages of that, but that is being really helpful for people who sort of want to become educated, want to understand what's going on and they feel motivated and able to do that on their own. So that's that's the self-help model, then what would we use?

Elizabeth McIngvale: Well in one of the things, I want to back up for a second to just and I know you've done so many podcasts on this but for those who've skipped over this one, right, what's really most important is that you're engaging in evidence-based treatment and what we mean by that is that we want to make sure you're getting access to treatment that's been researched and that we know works for OCD. And so there's self-help that is not evidence-based for OCD and they're self-help that is evidence-based for OCD. And one of the beauties of self-help is that you don't have to look at it as a soul intervention, right? Do it while you can, you can do these workbooks, you can do these self-help, you know, in different modalities while you're going to an outpatient therapist. And then one of the things that's really beautiful is that if you live in an area where there isn't OCD providers or OCD specialists your clinicians can actually also use it as a guiding tool in treatment, right? And so again it's allows there to be this rubric of good treatment, all right? This kind of like guide book to,…

Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah.

Elizabeth McIngvale: you know, or handbook to say. And so Always think of that as kind of our least, invasive level of care and…

Kimberley Quinlan:  Right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: it's a level of care. That's my goal that everyone ends up at right that you're able to get to a place…

Kimberley Quinlan:  Yeah.

Elizabeth McIngvale: where like, yes, you're still actively engaged in a treatment community whether that's through self-help workbooks or podcasts or different ways that you connect because that's really helpful, but that you may not need one-to-one anymore, right? I go to one-to-one therapy because it's important for my soul. I don't need it and…

Kimberley Quinlan:  Right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: that's very different, right? I'm at a place where I can engage the tools inependently, using some resources with and when I need them. And so then the next level is outpatient therapy and traditional outpatient therapy would be oftentimes once a week 45 to 50 minutes session with an OCD specialist in person, one to one in the past three years, that's totally shifted right actually, I would say more commonly it's virtual than it is in person and you know, there's pros and cons. I think most of us Most of us still think in person is better,  right? That just if it's feasible, But from a scheduling perspective and feasibilities perspective online is so much easier, right? So most of us, myself included, I do my therapy online because it's, I don't have to schedule the time to drive and get to my clinician and drive back. And so, that's really important. The second piece that's really important to think about is, I would rather you 100 times over be doing virtual sessions with someone who specializes in OCD and knows how to treat OCD then do in person with someone who doesn't.

Elizabeth McIngvale: Right, so really, when we think about therapy and interventions, we want to make sure and this is important because a lot of times people will say, Oh well I've tried out patient therapy, It doesn't work for me but they haven't necessarily tried it with an OCD specialist and they haven't been appropriate evidence-based treatment and really we want you to do that first before you start thinking about next level of care or you know some people will want to do like a medication trial and it's like Well you don't get in the research study in a trial if we haven't tried evidence based stuff first, right? So that's really important. With that being said, outpatient can be a continuum, Some outpatient providers can offer two to three sessions a week for 45 minutes, you know? So they can do kind of what we would call like intensive outpatient and that they may make in their own program, but traditionally most clinicians who carry an outpatient case. Load would see someone once a week for 45 minutes session.

Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah and I think that's for our center as well once maybe twice if there's more of a crisis but that's the level of care that we that's the kind of clients that we have and that's the level of care that we do provide. So I think and I will say going back to your online is quite a few of the people who take ERP school have therapists, right? It's like 55% of the people who take ERP School are therapist. So therapists are, you know, even though that might be their specialty, Let's say they're the only person in their neighborhood. That is what they're doing, right? They're just doing the best, they can learning whatever skills they can. So that's very positive in my mind.

Elizabeth McIngvale: That's right. Yeah, and want people to have a good sound background in ERP but have to mean that they only treat OCD,…

Kimberley Quinlan:  Right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: you know, and I think it's important that you can get really great progress right on an outpatient basis with someone who's knowledgeable and ERP. If you are at a place where outpatient level of care is warranted and important to think about,

00:15:00

Kimberley Quinlan:  Right, and that brings me to my next question, how would someone know if they needed a higher level of care for OCD? What would be some symptoms or signs that would be showing up for them?

Elizabeth McIngvale: And so the first thing I want you to think about is, Are you seeing somebody who does evidence-based care and are you not getting better, right? That's really the first like thing we need to look at is, Are you going to therapy and have you given in a good therapeutic dose, right? So we're talking, you know, at least a couple months. You don't expect that in two sessions, right? We're like better. Because often it may get worse than better. But at least, you know, maybe a couple weeks to a month or two. Are you on your own saying, I'm not seeing the results that I want, right? That this is, this is not getting me where I want to be. The second question is what level of functioning has your OCD impacted?

Elizabeth McIngvale: Traditionally most of our patients in residential care are not working full-time. So their OCD is really impacting their functioning on a level that's disruptive so whether that's either their family life or their job or their school or their career, right? Something is pretty significantly disrupted from their OCD. That once a week may not be enough, right? It again the level of disruption is a little bit too high and then the third thing to really think about is what your provider telling you A good OCD clinician should not be trying to make some sort of a program for you that they don't typically do to keep you on their caseload.

Kimberley Quinlan: Right.

OCD INTENSIVE TREATMENT

Elizabeth McIngvale: They should willing to say to you, You know I think I think you need more right now. And this is what more might look like. And the reality is that you're going to get to go back to them, right? As long as they're doing good ERP and evidence based care, right? You're gonna be encouragedto go back to that outpatient provider but it's about stepping up the level of intensity, right? If we have a medical diagnosis and we're going to our doctor but it starts to warrant the level of hospitalization or certain you know more intensive treatment, we don't want our outpatient doctor to keep seeing us in their private practice, right? We want them to send us to the hospital so that it can get managed and we can get more intensive treatment until we can return back to an outpatient level of management. We cannot treat the brain differently.

Elizabeth McIngvale: You know, and I hear people all the time. Well Liz, you know, I don't really want to go to treatment for four six weeks and my answer is like, well, what's 4 6? 12 18. However, many weeks you're at a treatment center if it gives you the rest of your life.

Kimberley Quinlan: Right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: Right? When we are talking about meeting this level of care, the disruption is not minimal the disruption is significant, right? We know that for patients with OCD, OCD impacts all aspects of your quality of life, right? All facets of it. I'm looking at our data yesterday and all like our 2022 outcomes data. We see significant statistically, significant decrease in OCD scores in phq-9.

Kimberley Quinlan: Right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: But then also in disability scores, right? Because we want you to be able to get back to functioning and get back to the life, you love, or you deserve, or you're excited about that OCD is taking away from you and so, I always want, I always want you to think about that and often with that means is that you typically can't do the homework, you're being assigned,…

Kimberley Quinlan:  Yeah.

Elizabeth McIngvale: you know, being assigned homework, and you're trying to do it, you're trying to engage in it, but you're struggling and you find that you're you're not able to do that homework independently. And so often times patients in our level of care, need extra support. They need support in the evenings. They need support outside of their behavioral therapy sessions to be able to do this ERP They need extra coaching, they need extra support. They need extra motivation.

Kimberley Quinlan: Right. And and recently, we had Micah Howe on the podcast. I was sharing with you before and he was really saying… He said, I went to inpatient thinking that it would be like a new kind of therapy and he's like, it was actually good to see, it's the same therapy, but more, right? Like just so much more.

Elizabeth McIngvale:  That's right. Yeah, if you're with a good therapist, right? It's same, if you're with someone who's doing evidence-based care, it's the same therapy but more and maybe maybe it's implemented a little bit differently, right? I do believe that we use some different language. We try to get things to stick in different ways, right? That sort of thing, but the model of treatment shouldn't change.

OCD INPATIENT TREATMENT 

Kimberley Quinlan: Okay, so this is all beautiful and I think it all of those points that you made are so important. The homework piece the therapist feeling like that's what they're recommendation is. What would be the next step up from outpatient? OCD treatment, in your opinion?

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yeah. So you know I can't speak for all the programs but what I can tell you is that here at the OCD Institute in Houston, Right? Houston Ocdi. We really focus on a super detailed admission process. And so what I mean by that is Kim,…

00:20:00

Elizabeth McIngvale: if you call tomorrow and said Hey I have sever OCD, I need to come to your program. We don't say great, here's our next opening,  that's not how it works at all. So for us we require a provider referral form a family referral form. You have to complete intake forms and then we do a one hour zoom session with you And during that zoom session we want to gather information. We want to understand your current symptoms. We want to make sure two things A: You're a good fit for our program and B: that we think this level of cares appropriate for you, you know, just because sometimes people have really bad OCD but they're actually not right yet for this level here. I run my program with this super strong whatever we want to call it…but deep rooted ethical means because it's happened to me in different ways and I'll never do it is I want to make sure that if someone is coming here and using certain resources that aren't you know, They run out. I want to make sure they're having the best chance of

Elizabeth McIngvale:  Managing their symptoms being able to return and live return to their life or live their life. And so, what I mean by that is that I don't take a patient if they want to come here, but we don't think they're good fit and ethically, I'm never gonna do that, right? I want you to get the right treatment and go to the right providers and the same thing happens when you come here. I think a lot of times people think, Oh, if I go to intensive treatment, I just, you know, they're gonna take my money and hopefully I get better. Absolutely not. You should run from a program that you feel like that programs should be reassessing every week. We have team meeting every day, we have rounds and we're talking about, Is this the right fit? Are we helping move the needle? Is the patient getting better? And so just because you start, somewhere, doesn't always mean you're gonna end somewhere. Sometimes we learn a lot about a patient. And example might be You come here with strong with with really high level OCD. But as you start doing intensive, work we realize. Wow you you're really struggling with emotion regulation and we actually think you need to go get some DBT work first before you're going to be able to effectively engage in ERP. And so we may encourage a patient to discharge,…

Elizabeth McIngvale: go do DBT and come back to us so that there's a chance at us being successful. I never want to patient to stay in my level of care and not be successful because it wasn't the right time or they needed to do something else first because then guess what they think treatment doesn't work for them and they think they can't get better when that's not the case. I talked about this with John Abramowitz the other day on a webinar with Chris Johnson and then we were talking about ERP and I said Guys for all intents and purposes there's years if not decades a decade in my life where I could have said to you ERP doesn't work for me. But it's not that ERP didn't work for me.

Kimberley Quinlan: Mmm.

Elizabeth McIngvale: It's that I wasn't accepting ERP and I wasn't engaging in ERP. I was doing it with one foot in one foot out. And the good news with intensive treatment is, we're going to try to help you get both feet in, right? We're gonna try to increase your motivation, increase your willingness, and we can support you 24 hours a day in that process, which is what outpatient therapy cannot do. An outpatient therapist does not have the capacity to offer that level of support…

Elizabeth McIngvale: where we can and we do. At the same time, If we're trying and you're not able to do that right now, we're not going to keep trying the same thing. We're not gonna keep saying Well let's just keep doing ERP because guess what ERP isn't gonna work for you right now, but it's not that ERP doesn't work. It's because we need to get you ready to do ERP even at an intensive level. And so we should be thinking about that as well. And so my point is that it's not a one size fits all model. And if you're looking for intensive or residential programs, be cautious of that, be cautious of programs that, you know, require you to stay a certain amount of time and take all your money up front and they're not going to, you know, customize a plan, you know, that sort of thing.

Kimberley Quinlan: Mmm. I love that. I love that. So, just for the sake of people understanding and I actually will even admit, like, I really want to know this too because I've only ever been an outpatient provider. I've never been an inpatient or a residential provider. So could you share Maybe the differences between OCD intensive, outpatient therapy, right? With OCD inpatient treatment or residential treatment. What, what would the day look like? And how would that be different for the person with OCD?

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yeah, it's a great question and let's actually walk through. There's a couple levels of care, so there's IOP, which is intensive outpatient, which is often three to five hours a day. Three to five days a week. There's PHP, which is partial hospitalization, which is often five days a week about eight hours a day. And then there's residential level of care, which is 24 hours, a day, 7 days a week. And then there's inpatient level of care, which is also 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but impatient is a little bit different than like what we have here at the Houston OCDI where we're residential. Inpatient can take patients with a higher level of acuity. So impatient is often a locked unit. That's a hospital setting. So they may be able to take patients that are active safety risk, you know, harm of hurting themselves that sort of thing, where residential program like ours, we don't, we don't accept those patients because we can't maintain that level of acuity for them. We are not a facility that can help keep patients safe. And what I mean by that is that while our program operates 24 hours a day. We are a non-locked unit. We have a full kitchen, we've got washer dryers, we get for all intents and purposes, like You're living in a beautiful residential home and you have access to knives, you can leave whenever you want. You can go off site, you can go to the Astros game if you're here in Houston. And we want you to do that. Actually, we want you to start to reintegrate into life, while you're in treatment with us.

00:25:00

Elizabeth McIngvale: And so, the reality is that, we need patients to be at a certain level of acuity right? So they have to be safe, and they have to not be a risk or harm to themselves for us to feel comfortable that they can engage in our level of care safely. And so, the difference between let's say IOP is that often times, we're talking about three to five hours a day, three days a week and so you're doing intensive sessions together, right? Imagine you're going to your therapist and for three hours a day, you're doing some, you know, individual or even group stuff, but you're working together, you're doing exposures and you're getting three hours of support versus 45 minutes.

Elizabeth McIngvale: Residential however, is 24 hours a day. And so, for our residential patients, there's programming from 8:45 to 4 pm Monday through Friday, 8:45 to 3 pm on weekends. But there's residential counselors here 24 hours a day, which means that when we do outings with our patients, Wednesday and Saturday night our RCs are going with you. They're encouraging you. They're helping you. They're supporting you. Because for all all of our patients actually with OCD, there's exposures built into outings you know, to going off, site to going and doing enjoyable things. And so you have that support 24 hours. If you need support in the shower, you have that support. If you need support cooking a meal, you have that support doing your laundry, you have that support in a residential setting. So really, if you need extra support around activities of daily living, we want you to be thinking about a residential level of care, compared to more of an outpatient level of care. Even if it's intensive outpatient or PHP, you're gonna go home in the evenings and you're gonna be expected to be able to engage in those activities on your own.

Kimberley Quinlan: Right. Right. So just because I'm thinking of the listeners and I'm wondering if they're wondering, Does that mean that when they come into your Houston residential program that, let's say, if they're someone who showers for, let's say, two or three hours, that you're immediately, your therapist on staff are going to be cutting them dance for like down right away. Or What does that look like? Is it gradual? Like How would that like, That's just an example…

Elizabeth McIngvale: Oh yeah.

Kimberley Quinlan: But what would that look like in the residential format?

Elizabeth McIngvale:  It's a great question, right? So I can tell you up front, if someone is coming with contamination OCD and they have, Let's just say a two to three hour shower. My goal is definitely gonna be that we're cutting that down, right? And the goal is that you're not going to be engaging in that long of a shower, by the time you leave and that's not your goal, right? Or you wouldn't be coming, but everything is done slowly and systematically and it's done effectively. So, what I mean by that is that we're not gonna push you to do exposures, if you can't engage in response prevention yet. We know, that's not useful. And so, what you would expect really weeks one and two are getting to know our model. You're starting to, you know, engage in readings and videos. And, you know, you have some small exposures. We're starting to do and you're building trust and repor, but you're starting where you want to start. Some of our patients might show up with the two-hour shower, but that's actually not their most distressing compulsion, something else is and that's what they want to work on first and that's where we're gonna meet them, right? We're not gonna start with a place you don't want to start and so we slowly work up to things and we get there together and we do like monitors in the shower and in our staff room so that we can have coached showers. So we might say things. Like If you set a goal of you know I want to be done with shampooing my hair within a five minute period or this, right? We're telling you the time we're communicating with you throughout we're asking you if you need a different level of support, we're talking to you about the amount of supplies you take into the shower prior. So we're doing a lot of planning, a lot of prepping. But I have a lot of rules. For exposures as an OCD clinician and certainly as the program director here. Number one is exposure should never be a surprise? We never throw exposures on someone, right? We talk about it with you. We're all on board. It's not an unplanned exposure by just, you know, say Hey today you're doing this or I just purposely contaminate you. The second is exposures should be agreed upon mutually right? You should be wanting to do it. You should be agreeing to do it. It shouldn't be something that I think makes sense. It should be what you think makes sense. And of course the last is that it should always be something I'm willing to do, right? I'm never ask someone to do an exposure that I'm not willing to do and so that doesn't shift in the residential process, right? Yes. In a residential program, I might be able to push patients a little bit more because I, I know they're gonna have support. I know that we can help them or you're with four hours of activity or people blocks a day compared to you know, 20 minutes within my 45 minute outpatient session. So sure we may be able to push a little bit more or a vote higher levels of distress when we're doing er,

00:30:00

Elizabeth McIngvale:  Than what would be comfortable with on an outpatient level but across the board motivation. Willingness that's on the patient, not on us, and it shouldn't be

Kimberley Quinlan: And I'm just curious because I don't, this is so wonderful and thank you for sharing all that. Because I think that's true for outpatient and…

Elizabeth McIngvale:  forced, or

Kimberley Quinlan: for residential, but I think is so beautiful in that setting and I'm mainly just curious because I haven't been able to visit your center is,…

Elizabeth McIngvale:  Yes.

Kimberley Quinlan: are they as everyone bunked in rooms together? Like, What does that look like? I know that in and of itself may be scary for people going in, right? Like, Do I have to sleep with somebody because I have compulsions around sleep and I'm afraid I won't sleep like, so, what does that look like?

Elizabeth McIngvale: I know it's a great question and it's it's interesting because when I so I actually went to the Meninger clinic when I went impatient at 15 and it was a locked unit, it was a much, lover, level higher, level of acuity. And so it was this like, sterile hospital, like setting, you know, and I remember feeling super upset and anxious and away from my home and One of the things that I don't love about those sort of settings for OCD treatment perspective, is that like, we had a housekeeper there, for example, like there was an access to a washer dryer to a kitchen. So like meals were prepared for you and what laundry was done. And while that's fine or good, actually, for some of us with OCD. It's not good for OCD, right? Because we want patients to actually practice those skills. And so, However, before I jump into what our programs like I do want to say, I still got better.

Elizabeth McIngvale: And I will tell you that, if the cost is being in an uncomfortable, sterile hospital setting, but it was me getting my life back. I do it all over again and so I really want us to think about that.

Kimberley Quinlan: That's really interesting.

Elizabeth McIngvale: You know that I think sometimes we we get so hung up on like, am I gonna be comfortable? What does it look like? What if I have a roommate and at the end of the day, you're getting your life back? So those sort of things are not what's more important, that should not override if it's an OCD specialty program, if you're going to be with other patients with anxiety or OCD, that's more important to me. I want When you're, if you're looking for a higher level of care, you need to be asking questions, like Are all the patients Patients with anxiety OCD are related disorders, is the treatment program specific to that, right? You don't want to be at a program with, you know, people with 20 diagnoses and there's just generalist modalities for groups or generalists, you know, groups and whatnot. You want there to be effective evidence-based care, being taught to you for anxiety and OCD.

Elizabeth McIngvale:  And so our program is actually so different. So our program is, in a beautiful Mediterranean, you know, 6,000 square foot, beautiful home and with the brand new kitchen, and it's got, you know, two washers too. Dryers and we have 11 beds total. So, six of our I'm sorry, we have six bedrooms, five of the bedrooms, have double beds. So, two queens and those rooms and then one has a single bed, that's our ada room, all of our bedrooms have their own bathroom and it's a really a home like home like experience. I think all of our patients would tell you, I hear this, I do it. Check out with every patient that comes through a program, I run groups and with them all the time, they always say that the entire experience was completely different than what they expected. You know, they were thinking this hospital setting this kind of rigid treatment where it was really instead it's like, hey, you come here and we help together create a supportive environment to get you back to the things you want to be doing in your life.

Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah, I love it. I mean, when I used to work in the eating disorder community, it's like a big family. Like and and I think for me from my experience of clients, going through residential programs is, I think they had this idea of What the other people would be like only to find out. Like, these are my people, like, these are my people and and I want to encourage people listening. I know it's scary, the idea of increasing your, at the level of care. But usually, when you increase the level of care, you meet more of your people which is like the silver lining, I don't know, that was just being my experience of people and…

Elizabeth McIngvale: I couldn't agree more,…

Kimberley Quinlan: what they've said,

Elizabeth McIngvale: you know, and we we see our patients and they leave. And we do this mentor support group where they can come back and run them into our group to the newer patients, or the patients currently in the program and it's so great to see. But I cannot tell you how many of our patients are great friends now and they go to the conference together and…

Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah.

Elizabeth McIngvale: they, you know, connect together and they run a support group for each other outside of when they leave here to keep and hold each other accountable. But you know one of the beauties is that in our home like setting you get to truly practice everything, right? And so you practice, the things you're gonna have to be doing at home, from cooking a meal doing your laundry, cleaning your room, right? All these sort of things that are important skills. We don't want to isolate and create this sterile environment. We want it to feel and to mimic your home. And so, there is so many memories and so much connection that's made when you're cooking together with your residence or when you're sitting in the living room together and watching them a movie, or going out to dinner in the community together and those are some of the most Important impactful and meaningful experiences and treatment, right? Not only because you make peers and connections, but you also get to encourage each other in the treatment process together.

00:35:00

Kimberley Quinlan: Mmm, I love that. Okay. So we've worked our way to the higher level of care. You've done the higher level of care. Let's make sure we finish this story. Well, right? It's like, it's like a movie plot to, the right is, How do we come down the level of care, right? So what does it look like for somebody who's done higher levels of care? What what is like you said at the beginning? It's not just like a one and done, you can sort of dust yourself off and maybe you can, I don't know. What is your experience? What's your suggestions in terms of reducing the level of care,

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yeah. So our goal from treatment is that anytime someone discharges from our program, their discharging to an outpatient level of care and at some times for some of our patients, they're going to discharge back to their outpatient provider and they may see them two or three days a week, a first couple weeks and then two days a week and then, you know, to kind of taper back down to traditional outpatient or whatever, their therapist has available. And so that's the goal. But getting there looks different for everyone. So some of our patients will do residential the whole time, they're with us 12 to 16 weeks. However, long, they're in treatment and go straight back to their outpatient level of care, especially if they live out of state, different things that may make the most sense for them, but some of our patients may actually discharge to our day program. So they may, you know, spend eight weeks with us in the residential. And then discharge to our day program, for the last four weeks, especially if they're local, but even if they're not, they may get an airbnb and discharge to that level of care because it might actually be recommended and warranted for them to really practice independent things outside of the treatment day without 24 hours support

Elizabeth McIngvale:  And then again be able to tailor or taper back down to an outpatient level of care. So for us that is always our goal. One of the questions I get a lot is like Well when will I know if I'm ready to leave Liz and What will that look like? And my response is always the same is that I don't expect or actually want patients to leave here without any OCD. If you're leaving here without any triggers or any anxiety or OCD, then we probably kept you too long, right? Because it's important to remember that. You only should be in this level of care for as long as it's warranted. We should not be keeping you and charging you and having you stay. If you're ready to go to an outpatient level of care at that point. And so, my response is always, I'm, I, I want people to discharge when they're at a place where the treatment team and the patient feels confident that they're going to be able to maintain their progress on an outpatient level. And so the goal is that you've gotten all the tools, you've got the skills, you understand the concepts, you know, the difference between feeding your OCD and fighting your OCD and what that looks

Elizabeth McIngvale:  Like, you've changed your relationship with anxiety and OCD and now you're ready to keep doing that on your own. And so for a lot of our patients, we recommend and have them do what's called a therapeutic absence. This is typically about three fourths through treatment. We'll ask you to go home for about three to five days. Practice your skills. See how you do, see where you got stuck? Come back. We'll tweak things will help kind of read those final things before you leave, but the goal is that you're gonna discharge to outpatient care and you're gonna discharge to a functioning structured schedule. So this is really important, right? I want you at discharge to have a clear plan for what you're going to be doing, we don't want you to go home without a plan and to, you know, potentially revert back to sleeping in staying in your room, right? Those sort of things we want you to go back to a schedule because one of the benefits of being in our program is how scheduled and structured. It is

Kimberley Quinlan: And I love this because as a treatment provider, anytime a client of mine has come back from residential or some kind of intensive treatment, the therapist that they were working with gives me this plan right? Or the The client brings me the plan and so I'm I hit the, what's The saying? Hit the ground running. Like I know what the plan is that we already have it.

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yep.

Kimberley Quinlan: It's not like we have to go and create a whole nother treatment plan. It's usually coming handed off really beautifully, which makes that process like so easy.

Elizabeth McIngvale:  that's,

Kimberley Quinlan: For an outpatient provider to to take that client back.

Elizabeth McIngvale: Our goal, right? Our goal is that if you referred someone to meet him, I'm gonna be talking to you before I start working with them and I'm certainly going to be talking to you as we're getting close to discharge and around the time of discharge to transition that care. Right? Seamless,…

Kimberley Quinlan: Right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: we want it to be smooth and we want the patient to feel like there's not an interruption in their treatment.

Kimberley Quinlan:  Right. Oh my gosh. So, good. Is there anything we've missed? Do you feel?

Elizabeth McIngvale: Not really, you know, I think I get this question a lot, you know, across the board everything we've talked about just because I've personally experienced this, I do this myself professionally and Here's what I'll tell you guys. Treatment is fair is scary No matter what. It doesn't matter if we're doing on outpatient level or an intensive level, right? We're being asked to face our fears or being asked to do things that terrify us I know and many of our listeners know that treatment can and will save your life. And so if you're questioning if you're ready, if it makes sense, you may not ever feel ready and it may not ever make sense. But what I can promise you is that if you put forth the work,…

00:40:00

Kimberley Quinlan: If?

Elizabeth McIngvale: the outcome is incredible. And I am someone who sits right here as

Elizabeth McIngvale: Someone who really believes in full circle moments. Because the program that I attended when I was 15 is the program. I now get to run every day.

Kimberley Quinlan:  It makes me want to cry.

Elizabeth McIngvale: And it is, it is I can tell you. I I love my job and every person at our team here at the Houston OCD Institute. We are driven by the opportunity to help individuals change their own life through treatment and it works. I wouldn't you know Kim those of us with lived experiences even if it's different we wouldn't be doing the work that we do. If we didn't know it worked What a friend,…

Kimberley Quinlan:  All right.

Elizabeth McIngvale: what a horrible life if I had to be a fraud every day pretending for didn't, you know, I couldn't but we do this, we make a career out of it and and we get to keep changing lives and keep hopefully doing for others. What some people did for us when we really needed it. And I'm very grateful that I have the opportunity to be at a…

Kimberley Quinlan: So beautiful.

Elizabeth McIngvale: where I can now help other people. And what I can promise you is that with the right treatment, you can be at a place where you can be doing, whatever it is. You're meant to be doing not what OCD wants you to be doing.

Kimberley Quinlan: So beautiful. My curiosity is killing me here. So I'm just gonna have to ask you one more question, is it the same location?

Elizabeth McIngvale: It is not. So when I was a patient it was impatient actually at the Meninger clinic. So it was in that hospital setting and they closed their program in 2008 and then it became an offset. And so it's now we're our own facility and a beautiful house. And we're in a beautiful neighborhood in the Heights that you can walk around in Houston.

Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah.

Elizabeth McIngvale: So it is not a hospital setting but it is the same program for all intensive purposes.

Kimberley Quinlan:  Right? That is so cool. I am so grateful for you. Thank you so much now um I know you've shared a little bit but do you want to tell us where people can get a hold of you, any social media websites, and so forth.

Elizabeth McIngvale: Yes. Yes, please feel free to reach out anytime y'all want my instagram and handle is Dr. Liz OCD. So you can always reach out there or find resources and support but for our website you can go to Houston OCDI.ORG or you can give us a call at 713-526-5055. And what I'll tell you is that I'm always available to help answer questions offer support and that doesn't mean you have to choose our program, but I would love to give good insight into what you should look for. And what I will say is, I know, can you talk about us all the time? You want to make sure the program that you're attending engages in evidence-based care so for OCD that's going to be ERP and often a combination of medication and that they really specialize in treating solely anxiety and OCD and OCD related disorders at the intens Or you want to be cautious? Not to go to a program. That's a really mixed program that says, they can also treat OCD. I don't think that'll be the same experience.

Kimberley Quinlan: Agreed agreed, So grateful for you. This I feel like this has been so beautifully. Put like in terms of like explaining the whole step, their questions. I will be I'll be referring patients to this episode all the time because these are common questions we get asked. So thank you so much for coming on.Elizabeth McIngvale:  Well, thank you for having me. Anything I can never offer. Please never hesitate to reach out, and thank you for all that you do in the awareness and education you spread in our field.

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