Compulsion is often described as a psychological force that drives someone to do something, even if they don’t want to. In cases of compulsive disorders, these “irrational forces” stem from repetitive thoughts or mental activities. Understanding that these forces are self-generated is crucial in shifting the focus from external influences to personal responsibility. By recognizing that these thoughts are their own, individuals can regain control over their actions and have the power to make positive changes.

When faced with a client struggling with compulsive behaviour, my initial focus would be on unravelling the Complex Equivalence that exists within their mind regarding the problem. What does this problem represent to them? What purpose does it serve? What do they believe would happen if they were to break free from this behaviour? Often, fear acts as a powerful driving force behind compulsive behaviour, to safeguard the individual. By gaining insight into the meaning of this problem, we can delve into its truth and validity. Frequently, there is no logical connection between the behaviour or thoughts and the supposed “reasons” behind them. Let me illustrate this with an example: I once encountered a lady who felt an overwhelming compulsion to constantly check the locks on her car, to the extent that she had new locks installed every six months. Her deepest fear was linked to her father’s safety following a near-death experience. Strangely enough, there was no apparent correlation between her father’s incident and her repetitive behaviour of securing her car. Although this realization didn’t immediately resolve the problem, it did encourage her to question the validity of the issue, which had previously seemed unshakable.

To address potential issues stemming from a significant emotional event, consider conducting a values elicitation to uncover hidden “away from” values within the client’s hierarchy. This can shed light on any negative impacts that may be affecting them. Additionally, utilizing the fast phobia technique can help desensitize negative emotions triggered by stimuli, allowing the individual to confront these triggers without experiencing overwhelming emotions.

As a therapist, I have plenty of flexibility in my approach, allowing me to adapt techniques to better suit each individual client. For instance, I may suggest focusing on one compulsion while trading off another, gradually reducing the list of compulsions to tackle. This not only helps in managing multiple compulsions but also boosts the client’s self-confidence along the way.

It’s interesting how our fears can sometimes dictate our actions. I remember a friend of mine who used to feel an overwhelming urge to run indoors whenever a helicopter passed by. He couldn’t quite pinpoint where this fear originated from or why it affected him so much. One sunny day, while enjoying a picnic in a vast open field with his girlfriend, a helicopter appeared in the sky. With no place to hide, he had no choice but to confront his fear head-on. Surprisingly, as he sat through it, he realized that he was fine. It was as if his fear had reached its breaking point and simply vanished in that particular situation.

Trying out different therapy approaches is key to finding the most effective treatment. While pushing boundaries may not always be necessary, it’s important to gauge the response to stimuli after some progress has been made. This way, clients can see for themselves how much they’ve improved.


By Gemma Bailey

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