Unwanted Thoughts Widespread

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According to a new study, most people experience “unwanted” and “intrusive” thoughts, and that such behaviors aren’t just isolated to people diagnosed with OCD.  Actually, according to research from Concordia University and 15 other worldwide universities, 94% of people experienced unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images and/or impulses.  Therefore, if you keep having to check if your hands are clean, think that your family might be dead, or worry if the fridge was left open or not, then you are not alone.

Researchers, however, clarify that OCD is not a result of the thoughts, but rather the actions that follow or result from those thoughts.  For the study, researchers examined people from six different continents with the findings published in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.  Adam Radomsky, a psychology professor at Concordia, found that the thoughts, images and impulses symptomatic of OCD are widespread.  It’s not the unwanted, intrusive thoughts that are the problem, but rather what you make of those thoughts.

burning house

Thoughts such as “is my house on fire right now?” are now known to plague everybody, not just those with OCD, according to a new study.

That, according to Radomsky, is at the heart of his cognitive and behavioral interventions for helping people overcome OCD.  This means that therapists are now able to focus on applying effective treatments that will work cross-culturally.  Like Radomsky pointed out, confirming how common these thoughts are can help us reassure patients who may think that they are different from everybody else.  Many people, for instance, who have an intrusive thought about jumping off a balcony or a metro platform would tell themselves that it’s a strange or silly thing to think, while an OCD person may be worried that these thoughts make them suicidal.  OCD patients experience these thoughts much more frequently, and are much more upset by them, although the thoughts themselves seem to be indistinguishable from those that occur amongst the general population.

For researchers developing effective evidence-based mental health treatments, the ability to recognize how widespread these intrusive thoughts are can offer encouragement to use cognitive and behavior therapies.  In actuality, people with OCD and related problems are a lot like everybody else.  For the study, researchers assessed 777 university students in 13 different countries on six continents.  Research was conducted in Quebec, Argentina, Australia, Greece, France, Hong Kong, Iran, Israel, Italy, Sierra Leone, Spain, Turkey and the US.  Participants were then questioned about whether they had experienced at least one unwanted, intrusive thought in the previous three months.

To ensure that participants reported intrusions, researchers worked with them to distinguish between lingering worries, ruminations about previous events and unwanted intrusions.  These can range between phrases such as “did I lock the front door?”, an image such as a mental picture of the subject’s house on fire, or an urge (for instance, a desire to do something illegal).  Contamination, aggression and doubt were among the various intrusive thoughts that participants reported.

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