Psychology Writ Large Bridget Hannah An Phd

Psychology Writ Large: Bridget Hannahan, Ph.D.

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A Note to My Clients on Valentine's Day
by Bridget Hannahan, Ph.D.

With the placement of chocolate and flowers at the center of the celebration, Valentine's Day should be my favorite holiday. I woke up this morning thinking about several of my clients who may be discouraged by the commercialization and high expectation placed on this day. Single people come to mind first, already struggling with loneliness and now surrounded with the message of idealized romantic passionate love. Then the married couples who are struggling with conflict in their relationship, reminded of the love that seems, for now, to be lost. There are a few things I would like everyone to remember.

Even if no one brings you flowers or chocolate, you are loved. This year, Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday, and that is a very good thing. I hope you will go to church today and remember that God loves you and you are always an important person to Him. St. Valentine was a Christian who was so committed to spreading the faith that he became a martyr. Let all the red hearts remind you of the blood shed by this martyr and all the others who had such passion for God that they died trying to reach more people with the Gospel. And remember that the sacrifice of St. Valentine and all the martyrs is merely a reflection of the commitment Christ made to you. His commitment is not just for a lifetime but for eternity. There is no match for that on the display table at the corner drugstore.

Remember too that it is right and good that you love yourself, as God loves you. You made a commitment to engage in the counseling process to improve your life, knowing that God wants you to have a full and satisfying experience in this life. The process of healing and growing in virtue is ongoing, not to be measured in any single day. Don't believe that another person makes you worthy of love. You are always worthy of love because you are made in the image and likeness of God. Pope St. John Paul II said, "The only appropriate response to the human person is love."

Love God, love yourself, be kind to others, and eat all the chocolate you want today. Just make sure it's dark chocolate because that's the kind that's good for you. ; )

February 14, 2016

Target, OCD & Sensitivity 
by Bridget Hannahan, Ph.D.

While I am sympathetic to those who have been offended by the offering of an "ugly Christmas sweater" in Target stores that makes light of a serious mental disorder, I prefer to look at the up-side of this controversy. The problem apparently started when people began posting photos and complaints about the sweater. On it was printed "OCD Obsessive Christmas Disorder," which was taken as a joke at the expense of people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Click here to see for yourself the sweater and comments: http://time.com/4106089/target...

The valid complaint is that people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have nothing like a happy obsession with the baking, shopping, and decorating that is implied by the sweater. OCD is a serious mental disorder that robs people of their time and peace of mind. Often, relationships with family members are seriously affected, and many people suffering with OCD become isolated from their friends because of persistent painful, unwanted thoughts and unreasonable behaviors they feel compelled to perform to counteract or distract from those thoughts. While the Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier, it is a socially acceptable and (more or less) shared preoccupation that ends on or around December 26 each year.
People with OCD have difficulty finding appropriate treatment, and they have no idea when or how their suffering will end. The shocking, shameful nature of obsessive thoughts, the fear of acting on them, the dread of going crazy, and the insistent nature of compulsions tends to promote social withdrawal even in an otherwise outgoing person. Obsessions usually take the form of what is most reprehensible to the person suffering from OCD. Not uncommonly, a new mother is plagued with thoughts of hurting her baby. Religious people may have blasphemous thoughts. A gentle, kind person may be disturbed by violent images. The more horrified a person is by the unwanted, intrusive thoughts, the more entrenched they become in the cycle of OCD. Many people have these types of thoughts from time to time, but a person with OCD finds them more intense and persistent. Rather than disregard the thoughts, a person with OCD feels compelled to do something to counteract the intrusive thoughts. Compulsions temporarily decrease anxiety, the cycle begins, and it does not end without confronting the initial anxiety with a caring and competent therapist and (usually) medication. Without proper treatment, suicide sometimes seems the only way out of the pain. OCD is clearly not a laughing matter.
Where is the up-side, you say? It is a good thing we are talking about OCD. The more people know about OCD, the more likely it is that people who suffer from it will find caring and compassionate assistance. Because people with OCD get so caught up in the cycle of obsessions and compulsions, they need people around them to lovingly address the concerns and help them access mental health services. They need to be told they are not crazy but are suffering from a serious and painful condition that can be treated. Of course, they will tend to be defensive. That's where the other up-side comes into the picture.

It seems to me that OCD is on the verge of becoming regarded with the same comfort level and understanding as ADHD. Students are quite comfortable sharing that they have ADHD and take medication to manage the condition. People talk about being "so ADD" as if it were a minor inconvenience or an endearing quality. The fact is that there is an up-side to ADHD. People with ADHD may have more energy, be more talkative, say what they mean, and notice details in the environment that other people miss because they are more focused. Impulsivity can be channeled into creativity, developed in athletic performance, and reflected in social spontaneity. It's hard to see the positive qualities when we are dealing with academic difficulties and organizational challenges. But they are important to nurture.

I believe western society has begun to embrace the positive qualities a person with OCD is likely to have, and those of us who know the pain of OCD need to encourage this while also gently educating others about the seriousness of OCD. One of my colleagues is fond of saying, "You have to be a little bit OCD to get through medical school." People with OCD have a lot of mental energy. They are conscientious. They are often very intelligent. People with OCD may be very imaginative. They are brave, fighting an unseen enemy. They may or may not be orderly and organized, but they usually have the capacity for good planning when the disorder is under control. Having suffered mightily, they are likely to be compassionate toward others who suffer--once their own disorder is properly treated. Underneath it all, people with OCD are unique individuals with valuable personalities suppressed by the disorder. They deserve compassion, kindness, and competent care. 

People with OCD are more likely to share their struggles if their disorder is more accepted. How great would it be for people who have been treated for OCD to be able to casually mention it to others? That kind of openness and acceptance is what I see reflected in the Target sweater. More acceptance, open disclosure, earlier identification and treatment would prevent years of pain, confusion, and lost productivity. We need more conversation and publicity around mental health issues, not less. Let's continue the dialogue.

November 15, 2015

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