OCD Study a Boost for Non-Drug Advocates

I sometimes wonder, as I wait for yet another prescription to be filled, how my life would have been different if I didn’t take that first Zoloft 12 years ago. How would the last decade have played out had I, say, taken some herbs, enrolled in daily yoga classes, or visited a holistic doctor instead of visiting the local psychiatrist? I realize that this line of thought is fruitless but, there are times when I can’t quite resist the dangerous “what-if thinking.”

I know that in 1996 when I was dragged to the doctor’s office I was not in a state to wait a few months for any slower-acting treatment. I needed some relief, and fast. But even so, I have lived with the side-effects of drug therapy and relish the thought of simultaneously being off of psychotropic medication and healthy.

Therefore, I was pretty excited to read about a recent study at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) involving OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Apparently, PET (positron emission tomography) scans revealed that daily exposure and response prevention therapy (an element of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or CBT) over a four week period yielded improvements in the right and left thalamus (OCD “brain areas”).

Another unique result of the intensive therapy is increased activity in the right dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Previously, increased activity occurred after depressed participants received cognitive-behavioral therapy. Researchers now believe that there is an association between cognitive-behavioral therapy and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.

This is exciting news — and not just in the mental health realm. Although our society is in the midst of an alternative health surge, non-invasive, non-drug treatments are still sorely underrepresented in the mainstream medical field.* Yes, there are alternative options out there but, last time I checked, the mental health part of my insurance program didn’t cover anything other than a few psychology and psychiatry sessions.

Hopefully the indisputable, scientific evidence revealed by this study and others like it, will bring new validity to non-drug treatments. These treatments may not produce results as quickly as drug therapy. They may not make some drug company head honcho a billionaire. They may even require insurance companies to provide more coverage for therapy. But, even with all these “strikes” against a “natural remedy” such as CBT, it has a definitive advantage — no chemicals. And to many of us out there, that fact alone makes all the other disadvantages quite meaningless.

Note: I realize that some people may not classify CBT under “alternative health.” After all, CBT has been utilized in our country for years. Yet, when viewing alternative health as the body’s ability to heal itself, CBT fits the term.


University of California-San Diego (2008, January 22). Rapid Effects Of Intensive Therapy Seen In Brains Of Patients With Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD). ScienceDaily.

  • Anonymous

    “Yet, when viewing alternative health as the body’s ability to heal itself, CBT fits the term.”

    I disagree, alternative treatments usually refer to non empirically-supported treatments that are used adjunctively or in lieu of the normal standard of care.

    Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) IS the gold standard of treatment, based on empirically-supported research. OCD is manifested behaviorally–in the compulsive behaviors that are continually acted out in order to soothe the anxiety. So doesn’t it make the most sense to treat the behaviors behaviorally and the anxiety cognitively?

    By the way, such research is nothing new. The effects of CBT on the brain of OCD patients was published four years ago as well:

  • Janey Smith

    A new documentary type show for a major cable network that emphasized Entertainment, the Arts and Education is looking for people in S. California with OCD, anxiety, hoarding or extreme fears. We are doing a show in conjuncture with a well-established, world-famous OCD Center here in Los Angeles.

    By offering these people free cognitive behavioral therapy (for 12 weeks and then follow up treatment) we hope to help them, and hopefully help others that will be watching our show.

    Please have contact us at therapycasting@tijuanaent.com.

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J. R. White

J. R. White is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She has over five years of experience in education and pedagogy.

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