Helping Clients Face Their Fears: Jayme Kolbo

Jayme Kolbo head shot, purple shirtLet’s welcome OCD therapist Jayme Kolbo today! Her insight can help us all, but Minnesotans—particularly Twin Cities residents—might be especially interested in learning more about her. Jayme recently co-founded OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center of Minnesota. Access to proper, evidence-based treatment is so important, and I am always thrilled when our roster of qualified therapists grows!

Tell us a little about yourself! How did you decide to focus on treating OCD and other anxiety disorders?

I’m Jayme, an avid dog-lover, adventure-seeker, previous concert-goer and sporting events-goer (thanks, COVID), friend, daughter, sister, and ERP therapist. I first learned about exposure and response prevention (ERP) while I was still in my graduate school program and working as a receptionist at a mental health practice. I attended a local training and immediately fell in love with exposure therapy. It made so much sense to me and it’s a therapy that really works! I actually didn’t get started practicing exposure therapy until a couple years after that, but it’s something I’m so passionate about and truly believe in (and use in my life). I’ve struggled with generalized anxiety myself and two of my closest friends have OCD and are such lovely, amazing, kind, caring people (as many people who struggle with anxiety disorders are). It’s so rewarding to get to walk alongside people with OCD and other anxiety disorders while they face their fears, gain confidence in themselves, and live the life they want despite chronic fear.

COVID-19 and everything that’s come along with it—mostly the need to stay home more than usual—may make someone wonder whether they can still get treatment for OCD. You offer telehealth services in addition to in-person therapy under normal circumstances. Can you explain what a patient can expect when they do virtual therapy?

Virtual therapy has actually been a great tool with exposure therapy. I can “be” in clients’ homes with them, which is typically the environment in which most of their fears manifest the strongest. As far as what to expect, it’s pretty simple. I use SimplePractice, which sends clients an email appointment reminder with a link that connects them to their secure video session. If they are using a computer or laptop, clients simply click on the link and join the session. If clients prefer to use their phone or other device, they download the SimplePractice app and can join sessions through the app. This can be different for different telehealth platforms, but is not as scary as it may seem. I recommend that clients find a relatively quiet place in their home with minimal distractions to do telehealth sessions in, have the door closed, use headphones for extra privacy if others are home, and we make a plan in case technical issues occur. It’s sometimes helpful for clients to be as close to their internet router as possible and have other apps closed on the device they are using. Telehealth can feel a little awkward at first and being able to see yourself the whole time can be distracting and anxiety-provoking, but, just like with exposure, clients (and myself) get used to it with time and practice. While it’s not the same as in person, it’s still a great option and clients are still benefiting from ERP using this treatment modality.

You do not have to be fearless. Doing it afraid is just as brave.
Jayme loves this quote by Morgan Harper Nichols.

I consider myself an introvert and prefer to be home with my dogs for the most part, but even I have been struggling with isolation and the fear that I may never feel comfortable being out in public again. How can I prevent developing a fear of leaving the house once the virus is better under control and we’re told we’re relatively safe?

I’m an introvert as well, but even introverts are struggling with the isolation that has come with the pandemic. Our brains are wired for social connection and we are all starving for it. I think part of this is radical acceptance: we might develop new fears given the changes that come with a global pandemic. It makes sense to feel somewhat anxious about leaving the house because that anxiety functions to protect us from getting COVID. The best thing we can do is allow that worry to be there and be kind to ourselves through it. We can plan ahead for the future somewhat by making sure we are not overdoing CDC guidelines or avoiding all places except our own home (unless you are someone at higher risk of contracting COVID). We can also practice mindfulness, or living in the present moment. We do not need to figure out (a compulsion) if we will ever be comfortable in public again because we really don’t even know what the post-COVID “norm” will be, when it will happen, or how we will be doing as individuals when it happens. The more we ruminate or think about how scary that will be, the worse our minds will make it. Beyond that, we can focus on what we can do right now, like going for a walk or connecting with friends virtually, and gradually expose or practice ritual prevention around those things. Finding a routine that works for you can be really helpful too. When the pandemic is over, many of us will likely need to do some exposure practice to face our pandemic-related fears (and potential social-anxiety due to isolation) and show our brains we can do hard and scary things.

What’s the biggest misconception about OCD? How do you think it can be combated?

I think many people hear OCD and think of it as a positive thing. People with OCD are just really clean and organized and detail-oriented and don’t like germs, right? Wrong. There’s a big push on many social media platforms to debunk this assumption. OCD is not an adjective. You are not a little OCD because you like your house to be clean or things to be in a certain spot. I think this assumption can best be combated through education. There are already many mental health advocates working on educating people about OCD and we can all be part of that. Next time you hear someone say they are a little OCD, kindly let them know that is a common misconception. OCD is actually a debilitating mental health issue characterized by intrusive, unwanted, scary thoughts and compulsive behaviors aimed at trying to prevent a feared outcome from occurring. When people use this term incorrectly, it spreads misinformation about the disease. If we keep perpetuating the myth that OCD means people are just neat or organized, all the OCD sufferers who experience other subtypes of OCD never realize they have the disorder and that there is evidence-based help out there for them. It also invalidates the experiences of those with contamination or just right OCD who know it’s so much more than being neat or organized. If you’re someone who has used OCD as an adjective in the past, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. You had the wrong information or never learned about mental health issues and now you have the correct information to change your behavior going forward. We all need to be open to learning new things that may change our perspective.

Jayme Kolbo standing on a foot bridgeIf you could give someone with OCD just one piece of advice, what would it be?

There’s so much I would want to say, but I think the most important piece of advice I can give is to not keep your OCD a secret. OCD thrives off shame. The more you try and hide it, the worse it will become. Many sufferers have “taboo” intrusive thoughts about things like harming themselves or others, incest, worry about being attracted to children or not knowing their sexual orientation, fear of bodily fluids like semen (yes, even men), being responsible for something terrible happening, and so much more. These are common obsessive concerns and ERP therapists will understand what you are going through, will not judge you for it, and will help guide you on how to manage these symptoms effectively. Know that you are not alone, you can live a happy life with OCD, and you are so much stronger than your OCD lets you believe.