Event hosted at UM aims to boost OCD awareness, increase access to treatment

OCD Central & South Florida, a regional affiliate of the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation, hosted a Day Conference & Community Service Event Friday Oct. 18 on the University of Miami campus. The conference focused on disseminating research and evidence-based treatment to professionals to give more people effective access. The event also raised community awareness catered to those affected by OCD and their loved ones, boasting an expert panel and informative video presentations to assist attendees in having their important questions answered.

“The majority of people take about fourteen to seventeen years to access treatment, so this will help them get it more quickly,” said Marni L. Jacob, the president of OCD Central and South Florida and one of the event organizers. Jacob added that the event also intended to provide a sense of community to those impacted.

“Many people don’t discuss [OCD] openly, even when it is a pretty debilitating disorder,” she said. “People who might not be able to access these resources otherwise, can get the opportunity to in this setting.”

“There are two key components to OCD,” said Marcia Rabinowits, who is a doctor of psychology and the clinical director at Rogers Behavioral Health in Miami. “Obsessions, which are described as unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger distress and/or high anxiety, and compulsions, which are behaviors the individual suffering from OCD may perform to rid themselves of the obsessions and decrease this distress and anxiety.”

Common obsessions may include harming oneself or others, perfectionism, contamination and intrusive or superstitious thoughts.

Compulsions, also referred to as rituals, may include hand-washing, repetitive checking, or mental compulsions such as going over thoughts. A diagnosis of OCD, Rabinowits said, is given when the cycle of obsessions and compulsions becomes debilitating, time-consuming and interferes with a person’s ability to function. Individuals struggling with OCD do not want to have these thoughts and often find them distressing, disgusting or doubt-inducing.

According to Rabinowits, the most effective treatments for OCD are cognitive behavioral therapy with exposure and response prevention and medication. However, acceptance and commitment therapy either done in conjunction with ERP or by itself can also be incredibly helpful, she said. A strong support system and mental resilience are key in battling this disorder.

“OCD treatment can be difficult and requires a lot of courage and determination,” Rabinowits said. “OCD affects the whole family, and family involvement in treatment is extremely important for recovery and relapse prevention.”

Rabinowits also said she believes awareness weeks and events are pivotal in decreasing the stigmas surrounding OCD.

“There are many misconceptions about OCD,” she said. “People have the tendency to misuse the term ‘obsessing’ and label certain habits as compulsions. We all have or experience obsessions or intrusive thoughts at some point in our lives, but that does not mean we all have OCD.”

Rabinowits added that OCD can present itself in many different forms, and so identifying symptoms and understanding the appropriate level of care is crucial before the disorder becomes debilitating.

“It’s important that universities and professionals in the mental health field become familiar with the disorder and participate in evidence-based treatment training so individuals struggling with OCD can receive the appropriate care,” Rabinowits said.

At UM, the Counseling Center houses a host of skilled professionals who have been trained to identify OCD and treat it effectively.