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Posted by Biology Forums   August 5, 2022   2194 views

"I'd better check......one more time.....just let me make sure.....I'd better go back...." In isolation these comments might come from anyone wondering whether the headlights are turned off on the car. But as the mantra of people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) these thoughts plague their daily lives. Whether its washing one's hands 25 times a day (above, scene taken from The Aviator (2004)) or checking to make sure the stove burner is off every hour on the hour, OCD can severely hobble one's peace of mind.

More rightly, it may be a piece of brain that produces these intrusive thoughts. UCLA's Jeffrey Schwartz and his colleagues used PET scans to study the brains of obsessive-compulsive patients. They found that the orbital cortex, the part of the brain responsible for sensing when something is amiss, seemed to be stuck on ACTIVE. For example, when most of us notice that the dishes in the sink need washing, our caudate nucleus clicks on to signal us to respond. If the caudate nucleus misfires, the orbitofrontal cortex in turn becomes perpetually engaged. The result, according to psychiatrist Schwartz, is that the thought that something needs to be checked or fixed or is yet-to-be done doesn't go away.

To remedy this, Schwartz and his colleagues propose the use of behavioral modification and cognitive therapy. When an intrusive thought makes its appearance, OCD patients are trained to relabel the thought for what it is: an obsession. They next attribute that obsession to a biochemical imbalance in their brain. Finally, patients focus on some constructive activity, such as paying the bills or weeding the garden, for 15 minutes, to allow their stuck caudate nucleus to become unstuck and shift to other thoughts. This technique has had limited success, with only 12 of 18 OCD patients reporting substantial relief from their intrusive thoughts. When it is successful the evidence is clear: PET scans show a much more subdued caudate nucleus after 8 to 12 weekly therapy sessions, combined with the relabeling and refocusing done by the patient at home. In the final analysis, it may indeed be that a piece of mind alters a piece of brain to restore peace of mind.

Source Begley, S., & Biddle, N. A. (1996, February 26). For the obsessed, the mind can fix the brain. Newsweek, 60.

OCD Mental Health Compulsion Psychology
Posted in Discoveries
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