OCD: Psychological Symptom as Metaphor
Alexis, 24, entered therapy because her compulsive hand washing threatened to ruin her life. She had just been accepted to law school, but was afraid that she would not be able to sit through classes or study well because her compulsion to wash her hands arose whenever she thought she might have touched something dirty. Every day there seemed to be more things that were too dirty to touch, but objects connected to toilets seemed the filthiest. She rationalized that because they were full of microbes they were the most unclean.
Alexis remembered no cause for her compulsion. As we often do in AIT, I regarded her symptoms as metaphors that her center was using to try to communicate with her conscious mind; looked at metaphorically, her behavior appeared to say that she was hand washing to cleanse herself of something that had defiled her in some way. I hypothesized that being made dirty and requiring purification was at the heart of the Originating Trauma that was the unknown earliest cause of Alexis’ OCD. I used kinesiological muscle testing to verify this. I also assumed, as AIT therapists do when we treat OCD, that her hand washing functioned as a false solution for her central issue: something certainly had to be cleansed, but it probably wasn’t her hands.
The first treatment issue, then, was to discover the trauma (or traumata) that had caused her OCD. Since Alexis had no memory of it, we used the Forgotten Trauma Protocol and discovered that her grandfather had abused her sexually when she was six by penetrating her and making Alexis kiss his dirty anus. Muscle testing verified that what Alexis really needed to cleanse was her contact with her grandfather’s anus and penis. The microbes, muscle testing again verified, were metaphors for this forgotten defilement; the hand washing was a metaphor for the purification her being required.
Once she gained confidence in muscle testing because we used it a lot and because its results struck her as continually accurate, we began Alexis’ OCD treatment with the Safety Protocol. In this protocol, the therapist muscle tests the client’s center to ascertain whether each object, behavior, or thought which the client deems unsafe is safe or not. We began each session by muscle testing everything that Alexis suspected was dirty. Responding to the muscle testing, her center quickly showed her that most of the things she was afraid to touch were not dangerous to her. It became easier and easier for her to touch formerly frightening objects, and she began to hand wash less frequently. The Safety Protocol, however, is only a stopgap that allows clients to reduce outward symptoms before the deeper treatment has had a chance to succeed.
Following the 3-Step Transformation model, we began trauma treatment using the Trauma Protocol. First we treated every aspect of the trauma involving Alexis’ grandfather until remembering it brought up no dissociation, emotions or physical sensations. Then, turning to Initiating Traumata, we treated each present symptom, particularly hand washing and Alexis’ fears of toilets and microbes, as a trauma. Next, we treated the various connections between the Originating Trauma and the Initiating Traumata, e.g., “Because Grandpa made me kiss his anus, I feel that anything connected with a toilet is too dirty to touch” and, “Because Grandpa dirtied my body and my soul, I try to wash my hands of what he did.” We treated these connections with the Connection Protocol, and they were destroyed. Then, using the Traumatic Pattern Protocol, we treated a few associated repetitive behavioral patterns that originated in her grandfather trauma, including:
- All the times and ways I get involved with abusive people.
- All the times and ways I need to wash my hands when anything triggers me.
- All the times and ways I have become afraid of becoming unclean.
In six sessions, the necessary trauma treatment was complete. Alexis was washing her hands ten times a day instead of fifty. It was time to get rid of the rest of her symptoms.
AIT therapists often find that there are two components that drive the patterned repetition of symptoms: trauma and conditioned response. My work with Alexis now focused on extinguishing her conditioned hand washing response by teaching her to use the Conditioned Response Extinguisher Protocol at home. This protocol consists of treating the conditioned response– in Alexis’ case the desire to hand wash– frequently as a trauma, and whether or not the compulsion is present in the moment. The result is the extinction of the compulsion. At first the client performs this protocol ten or more times daily whether he feels triggered to perform his compulsive symptom or not. He uses Quick AIT, the at-home version of the Trauma Protocol, to extinguish that compulsion entirely each time. After a few weeks the compulsion usually disappears, as it did in Alexis’ case. At that point she performed the protocol four times daily for a week, twice daily for a second week, once daily for a third week to assure extinction.
While she was doing this at home, we used the Core Belief Protocol to treat the negative beliefs that had grown out of her OCD. We found them in the OCD Matrix (Clinton 2005a), a group of sixty interrelated negative cognitions that OCD sufferers frequently believe. Three that we treated are listed below, the negative cognition preceding the positive, realistic one:
- I can’t handle being contaminated/If it does happen again, I can handle being contaminated.
- I’ll die if I’m contaminated/I can get help or help myself and live if I’m contaminated.
- My fear of contamination is really about the dirt I come in contact with in the present/My fear of contamination is really about what happened to me when (Grandpa abused me).
Finally, I asked Alexis which positive quality she might like to develop that had been squashed by her OCD. “Faith,” she said and, using the Positive Qualities Protocol, we reawakened this quality in session, and I taught her how to work on its development daily at home. She explained to me some weeks later that faith is the antidote to terror. Alexis entered law school and passed the bar soon after graduation. She now works at a first tier New York law firm and continues to be asymptomatic.
Although Alexis’ case was relatively easy to treat, there are other OCD sufferers who require additional archetypal treatment because there is, within them, a harsh, punitive, perfectionistic, obsessive judge archetype. He prompts symptomatic behavior by terrorizing the client inwardly with his impossible demands for perfection. AIT clinicians treat the archetype by using either traditional Jungian Active Imagination or dream analysis (Jung 1997; von Franz 1979) or the Forgotten Trauma Protocol to discover it, and AIT archetypal protocols to transform it. Once treated for his traumata, the Judge’s harshness softens; he becomes more compassionate and his obsession with perfection declines.
The work with the Judge is particularly important because, in many OCD sufferers, he has taken over the individual’s ego functions. Because AIT trauma treatment directly strengthens the ego, it is able to slowly take over its own functions while the judge is healing and transforming. In the end, the Turning the Archetype Toward the Light Protocol is utilized to help the Judge discover and begin to implement his true and highest purpose. By this time, OCD symptoms have generally ceased, and the client’s transpersonal world has opened and begun to develop.
Belle’s presenting problem when she entered therapy at 36 was Crohn’s disease, which can cause inflammation in any part of the digestive tract, though it often centers in the small intestine (Pantera and Korelitz 1996). Her Mom had OCD and spent much of her free time cleaning their apartment obsessively and compelling Belle to help her, to keep their clothes meticulously clean and neat, and even to enter the house through the basement and take off her shoes and outerwear there before coming upstairs if it was raining or snowing. Belle’s mother made many demands on her, but did not give Belle the loving, nurturing parenting every child requires. Psychologically abandoned by the mother with whom she was symbiotic, Belle did as she was asked in hopes of being nurtured and loved. Most of her decisions were reactions to her mother’s attempts to control her.
As a child Belle sought whatever respite she could find from her mother as father’s helper, but in doing so suffered the brunt of his excessive and judgmental perfectionism. Reacting against both parents, she became a rebellious adolescent, ran away from home, used alcohol and drugs and acted out sexually, always coming home to taunt her mother with what she had done and provoke yet another confrontation. As a young adult Belle became tied to a succession of boyfriends with whom she reenacted her compliant-rebellious maternal symbiosis. Caught in projective identification, they tended to abandon her emotionally when she refused to allow them to control her fully. Belle also manifested other typical borderline characteristics: impulsivity, moodiness, intense anger, and transient paranoid ideation.
Physically healthy as a child and teenager, Belle began experiencing continual intestinal discomfort in her early twenties and discovered that she was lactose intolerant. A diet devoid of dairy did not stop her symptoms, however. At 26 she entered psychotherapy, met her future husband, and began a new job where she had to contend with a controlling boss. By twenty-eight her symptoms had escalated to alternating painful bouts of diarrhea and constipation, and she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Her intestines were metaphorically enacting her particular form of rebellion by alternately ceding control through diarrhea and wielding it through constipation.
When she began therapy Belle was taking prednisone and asacol. Aunt May, her mother’s sister, also had Crohn’s disease with an onset in her twenties, and had suffered three surgeries as part of her treatment. Because of her Aunt, the family assumed the cause was genetic, but Belle wanted to try AIT treatment since her Aunt was still ill after thirty years and lived as a semi-invalid. Belle wanted a full life.
We began with the Covenant. Then, since her history suggested that the causes of her Crohn’s might be both genetic and psychological, we used the True Origins Protocol, which uncovers the multiple causes of a disorder, psychogenic illness, or issue by muscle testing a broad range of possibilities. Muscle testing revealed no genetic causes. The protocol led us to ancestral, past life, and childhood causes, first among them Belle’s mother’s intrusiveness, her abandoning Belle emotionally, and her many attempts to control Belle. Other causes included the abandonment, betrayal, and murder of both her great great grandfather whom she never knew, and herself in a past life, her not wanting to leave spiritual union and be born, her emotional abandonment by her dad, and her parents’ frequent control battles. After muscle testing to determine the optimal order of treatment, we began by treating her maternal control and symbiosis issues.
After the first two sessions of treatment her physical symptoms began to recede. They diminished in frequency and intensity after each treatment. By the eighth session Belle was asymptomatic and, upon consultation with her doctor, she slowly weaned herself from her prescription medications. We worked on the causes of her Crohn’s disease for five more sessions, however, because Belle wanted to treat every cause we had found. It is now some months later. Despite a new and very stressful work situation with yet another controlling boss, she is free of Crohn’s symptoms. Beginning the treatment of the major causes of Belle’s borderline personality disorder– emotional abandonment, control, and negative symbiosis– resulted in the remission of her Crohn’s disease. As we continue to treat the causes of her other borderline symptoms, those are slowly beginning to disappear as well.
From the AIT perspective, babies experience their parents as part of the unity into which they are born. They consequently experience the universe or God as acting hurtfully or abusively if their parents do so because they project their parents’ negative qualities and actions onto the Divine. This was the case with Vanessa, 46, who came into therapy to heal her inability to connect with the masculine Divine. She had grown up going to weekly church services and from an early age had been devoted to the Virgin Mary. However, she felt little connection either to Jesus or to God. As a young adult she had developed deep relationships with the triune goddess as well as Isis and Kwan Yin. In time she came to feel that although her connection with the Divine feminine was wonderful, her spirituality was out of balance.
After the Covenant, muscle testing indicated that Vanessa’s early experience of her father had blocked her relationship to the masculine Divine. When I asked about her father, Vanessa told me that he had been a distant figure in her life who spent long hours at work supporting his large family. When he was home, he either lay on the couch drinking beer and watching TV or harshly judged the activities of his seven children. Angry, silent withdrawal often followed judgment. Vanessa remembered his once not speaking to her for a week.
I muscle tested her to see whether there were other Originating Traumata that had caused her distance from the masculine Divine, and there was one that we would discover later. We treated her issue with the Paternal Projections on the Divine Protocol, which removes negative father projections from the client’s experience of the Divine. Following the steps of the protocol, I asked her first what was problematic for her about the masculine Divine. She talked about the harsh Old Testament God, his distance, his lack of caring for her and everyone else, his wrath and vengefulness, and his lack of compassion. She said he played with people as if we were the rats in his lab.
Next, I asked about her father’s problematic qualities. There was a pause as she felt this through, and then a flash of surprise and recognition in her eyes. “They are the same as God’s,” she exclaimed and added, “I’ve projected the worst of my father on God.” In two sessions we energetically treated all her negative experiences of her father as Originating Traumata. We treated her projective negative experiences of the Judeo-Christian God as Initiating Traumata during the next session. In the fourth session we treated all the connections between her negative experiences of her father and God. Then I sent Vanessa home with the suggestion that she try a spiritual experience that would involve masculine divinity before our next session.
She was smiling softly when we next sat down together. “I knew I couldn’t go back to my old church,” she said. “Too many bad memories. So I went with my sister Jill to the church she goes to. Sunlight was shining through the stained glass right onto Jesus, and I felt his love pouring right into me. It was awesome. No anger or vengeance; just love.”