OCD: Awareness Exercise

OCD: Awareness Exercise
— Leslie E. Packer, PhD


If this was a workshop, I’d take you through some exercises to give you a “taste” for what it’s like to try to function in school with obsessions and compulsions. But since this is the web, I’ve created an exercise for you to try that will give you a small “taste” of what it might be like by giving you a compulsion.

As you read the paragraph in the box below, tell yourself that you absolutely MUST count all the times the letter “e” occurs in the passage. You cannot read the passage and then go back and count — your compulsion is such that you must count as you read. You can’t keep track on paper or on your fingers, either, because you don’t want anyone to know that you’re having to count. And because you have OCD, you will doubt yourself and worry that maybe you made a mistake in counting, so you will probably have to go back and start counting again, because there’s this unwelcome voice in your head telling you that if you don’t get the count exactly right, something terrible is going to happen to your child. You know it’s irrational, but you can’t resist the thought and need to count.

OK, begin reading and simultaneously counting:

Children who have OCD often have hidden or silent compulsive rituals. These hidden rituals often confuse teachers who may look at a child and not realize what is going on internally that may make it almost impossible for the child to function normally at times. Young children often don’t realize that what they are doing is “abnormal,” and older children, teens, or adults are often embarrassed by their rituals and won’t tell you about them.

What is it like reading while you have to mentally count? If you were the student, how would you feel trying to read in school or at home? Might you get frustrated, tired, irritable? Might you give up?

Were you able to process anything of what you were reading? If you were the student and I was the teacher, and I called on you or tested you on what you had read, would you be able to tell me, or might I land up thinking you had a reading comprehension problem and/or that you were a very slow reader?

The severity of obsessive-compulsive symptoms waxes (worsens) and wanes (eases up). Children who have obsessive-compulsive features or symptoms as well as Tourette’s Syndrome often experience more interference from the silent rituals or anxiety-producing thoughts than they do from the tics of Tourette’s.