Category Archives: OCD Twin Cities

Tuesday Q&A: Anna Wetrosky


Happy Tuesday! Today we’re hearing from Anna Wetrosky, who’s graciously shared her experience with multiple diagnoses and residential treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia. Anna is a generous volunteer with a local nonprofit and a strong person with a lot of insight to offer. Thank you, Anna!

How long have you had OCD? And how long did you experience symptoms before you were diagnosed?

I’ve had some symptoms for as long as I can remember—they weren’t anything obvious when I was younger unless you were a specialist probably. I was diagnosed with an anorexia when I was 12 years old, but that wasn’t considered an off-shoot of OCD in 1997. I received an actual diagnosis in 2000.

Once you were diagnosed, how did you go about treating it?

I was diagnosed after being hospitalized, so I had 24/7 care for two weeks when I was 15. Then I was moved to outpatient once a week, then once every two weeks until I was 18. I went back into outpatient therapy a few years later in college and have been in more inpatient, partial programs, and outpatient during various times since then.

You went through residential treatment at Rogers Behavioral Health in Wisconsin. Why did you decide to commit to that level of treatment?

I researched centers and contacted Rogers after I had been in multiple treatments for seven years without the success in lowering my OCD symptoms that I was looking for. I hadn’t received much information on proven treatments for OCD even though I had been diagnosed with it years before. I had been bounced around in general treatments and was feeling frustrated and angry. My age and growing independence were factors in making a big change without the okay of anyone else.

Tell us what a typical day was like at Rogers.

I was there about ten years ago, so things may be different now. The staff woke people up to get their medications before breakfast if you took them along with your weight and vitals. You might not get weight and vitals taken in a non-eating-disorder track, I’m not sure. After that was a buffet-style breakfast. Some people had different dietary requirements. Your exposures happen all throughout the day and vary depending on your specific fears and hierarchy. One of my exposures was to eat varying amounts of my food—between 75 and 100 percent. I struggled with wanting to eat nothing or “having” to eat a certain amount. Everyone in my house also had at least one exposure dealing with food. After that was morning hygiene. I had trouble brushing my teeth in a reasonable amount of time, so I would time myself—not brushing my teeth for more than two minutes.

Then we sat in a group with our therapists and other clients and checked in with how our exposures were going. We carried around small black books with our symptoms and checked about how many times we did them during the day. This was also dedicated time to practice our specific exposures and rate them as our anxiety went up and down—there are staff members present during this time who can be helpful for support. I had exposures to do on the internet surrounding Facebook, using the phone, and in general conversing with people in different ways. Everyone had certain staff members that they got along with well or didn’t like to be around—that was something I didn’t like because of my avoidance surrounding interpersonal issues.

Lunch was similar to breakfast, and then we did some cognitive restructuring and thought challenging. I had a pretty constant thought (still do sometimes) of “everyone hates me.” I labeled it as mind-reading, listing the reasons that led to me thinking it was true, then writing only the things I knew to be accurate.

Experiential therapy in the afternoon was usually an outing for clients who had the okay from their therapist to do exposures and practice outside of the center. One day we went to the mall where I practiced trying on clothes and making small purchases (something I had avoided more and more over the years). Other outings went to Hobby Lobby and the local library. Making clients behave outside was a challenge for the therapists—don’t waste your time trying to bend the rules with the cool kids. You’re paying to be in treatment!

Supervised assignment work happened in the afternoon. Since every person has a different background, we worked on some of the same things but also had individualized goals. A friend of mine had experienced sexual trauma, so her assignment was to write down what happened to her since she could barely talk about it. As she became more comfortable, she told her therapist and courageously eventually read the story to the entire group.

Since I was in a house that worked with eating disorders along with any other OCD issues, we sometimes split up for meals as we progressed in our treatment. Toward the end of my stay I ate dinner in the hospital cafeteria (all by myself!). Not having to be watched while you eat is pretty exciting when you’ve been in eating disorder treatment for months. Once you progress in your treatment if you are working on an eating disorder, you also get to go out to eat with a few people, by yourself, or with your therapist.

After dinner we would all get together to review our goals, then have some more supervised assignment work where we’d spread out around the building if we wanted. Finally, we had a short group activity or took care of chores, laundry, and so on. Weekends were more lax with more free time. We spent a lot of time sharing music (pirating also—which is funny to think about now) and talking about our lives. Someone had a guitar, so we’d play that—someone else had a board game. There are TVs to watch movies, cable, and computers to use the internet. It’s like jail, but a lot better.

How did you adjust to daily life after residential treatment? Did you experience any hiccups without 24/7 access to care?

I had a little different experience after leaving. It was recommended I go to another inpatient program since I couldn’t do the partial program at Rogers (I was still having suicidal thoughts at that time). I honestly don’t know what the reasoning for that was, but that was what happened. The hardest thing for me to deal with when getting out of residential treatment was dealing with relationships issues. I’ve always had the hardest time dealing with those, so not having someone to talk to right away when starting out was hard. But it is also freeing, because you can get really sick of constantly being monitored.

You have also been diagnosed with an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Has treatment for one disorder informed how you approach another? What challenges do co-morbid diagnoses present?

I haven’t changed anything in particular regarding treatment due to one disorder, but they have influenced each other subconsciously for better or worse. When I try to eat well to deal with the eating disorder, that raises my anxiety and can lead to more borderline and OCD symptoms. It can also help, because eating regularly is better for blood sugar and helps with depressive swings. There are general things I try to follow that helps everything—getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising that typically apply all around.

You volunteer with OCD Twin Cities. Why did you decide to give back in this way?

I decided to volunteer because I had been through enough treatment that I felt I had extra knowledge that wasn’t necessarily being used by me. It was also a good chance to meet people and get involved. There is something satisfying about hoping what what you’ve learned from your negative experiences could help others not make the same mistakes.

If you could give just one piece of advice to others with OCD, what would it be?

Probably to remember that there’s no silver bullet. As shiny as that idea can be it’s just not realistic in 99 percent or more of cases. People who aren’t diagnosed with psychiatric disorders fall into this trap all the time as we can see—just look at the diet industry. In a way it seems more overwhelming that there’s no silver bullet—so many things to think about. You may have to start small and take one step at a time if necessary.

I know this is two things, but continuing exposure therapy on my own has been insanely helpful. It’s so easy to get out of treatment and be like, “Okay, I’m better now. Don’t have to think about that stuff anymore.” But again, unfortunately, for 99+ percent of people your OCD/other disorder won’t go away. It will just need to be managed. I had to use some exposure therapy to write these answers—I honestly avoided it for two months, as Alison can attest to, even though I was glad to share my experience. But finally I had to sit down, start an Excel spreadsheet, start setting goals and rating my anxiety as I went along. Here I am doing similar exposures around social media and putting myself in the spotlight ten years later. But it’s done, so go me!

#ocdweek with Chrissie Hodges


Happy OCD Awareness Week! As you may know, I’m the president of OCD Twin Cities, the local affiliate of the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), and I’m excited to host Chrissie Hodges this Thursday! If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll join us from 7 to 9 at the Wilder Center, Auditorium A, 451 Lexington Parkway North, St. Paul, MN 55104.

Chrissie is an incredible advocate for OCD awareness. She often speaks at conferences, to law enforcement, and to lawmakers, appears in live videos for Mental Health on The Mighty, and hosts a YouTube channel, Chrissie Hodges/Pure OCD Advocate.

You received the 2017 International OCD Foundation Hero Award. How did that make you feel? 

It was a great honor to receive the hero award, especially following in the footsteps of a couple of my favorite advocates! I think it made me feel more encouraged, not only in my own advocacy, but in encouraging others to pursue their own and find ways of telling and expressing their lived experience. It was a weird feeling, kind of like the impostor syndrome. I don’t feel like my story of survival and recovery or even my ability to talk about it so openly is heroic…I feel like the people I connect with every day in my work who are actively working toward the courage to get better and face this beast of an illness are my true heroes, and they are the reason I find the courage every day to keep speaking out. Anyone who lives with OCD and survives each day with it is a hero in their own right!

Your memoir, Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, came out this past year. Why did you write it? What do you hope people will get from it?

I originally wrote is as a tool for myself to read during relapses to remind myself that I really do have OCD. I struggle terribly with the “what if I don’t really have OCD and my obsessions are real” fear, so I thought if I could read about my history with it, it could be a good reminder and motivator in remembering that therapy works and things will get better. When I decided to publish it as a memoir, I hoped that people could use what I had been through to normalize their experience and feel less alone.

People love your live videos! How do you choose the topics? Has there been one video or subject that’s been particularly difficult to talk about?

Thank you! I usually choose topics based on what I have and what my clients are suffering with. The journey to recovery is so complex with OCD, it really isn’t just about therapy then recovery. It’s so emotionally difficult, so I try to do videos based on what I see as common obstacles for my clients. At first the difficult videos were the topics that are so taboo and the lesser known physical symptoms like groin movement and urges. But after being so open over and over and getting so much positive feedback, it has been so much easier to just be absolutely transparent without reservation.

You’ve shed a lot of light on sexual intrusive thoughts and helped people feel less ashamed of them. Tell us why you’re known as “Groinal Girl” among the OCD community.

Haha! It was at the IOCDF conference in Chicago sitting on a panel with you when I decided to open up publicly about how one of my most tormenting symptoms is when I get “the groinal syndrome,” which is a compulsion of checking and rechecking the groin area for movement or “arousal” when exposed to a sexual intrusive thought. I was so nervous, but the reaction was overwhelming and helped individuals who experience it feel less alone. I did a video on it shortly after and it is highly successful and has been watched more than almost any of my other videos! I think I self-proclaimed the #groinalgirl title!

“Groinal Girl” isn’t the only title you have. You’re a certified peer specialist. Tell us what that means.

I fell into peer support shortly after I began my advocacy career. I was helping people with their journey through OCD and realized that I needed formal training to learn to support people and not contribute to their symptoms! I went through intense training here in Colorado and worked full-time with individuals in the community as well as on the teams at the Colorado State Institution at Fort Logan with individuals with major mental illness and substance use disorders. I loved it. Simultaneously, I was working alongside Matt Myles, OCD specialist here in Denver, as an ERP coach and peer support under his supervision.

I saw the need for peer support in OCD treatment and recovery and in 2016 I launched my business doing peer support and consultations for OCD therapist referrals and resources worldwide. Through peer support, I meet with individuals to help support and normalize their experience by using my own lived experience. It has been wildly successful and I work with individuals with sessions one-time, ongoing, or as needed in any stage of treatment before or after. I also work with OCD therapists to coach individuals through exposures by enforcing their hierarchy plan. Both are incredibly beneficial in instilling hope and support to the client as they work toward recovery.

What can attendees of the OCD Twin Cities OCD Awareness Week event expect? 

I’m hoping to share my lived experience and story of not only my medical recovery, but my emotional recovery, which was equally as tough to work through. I’m hoping people will walk away feeling a sense of belonging to a community where we don’t have to feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment on what we’ve been through.

Tuesday Q&A: Erin Venker


11251846_780769322049276_936520711750468242_nFunny story: Erin Venker lives right here in the Twin Cities and she’s good friends with one of my coworkers, but we didn’t meet until we both attended the 2015 OCD conference in Boston. I knew right away I wanted to connect with her back home, and I ended up asking her to be the vice president of OCD Twin Cities, the local International OCD Foundation affiliate of which I’m president. (Okay, yes, I’ve said this about a hundred times before, but the conference is an incredible way to connect with like-minded people.) Not only does Erin have OCD, she went to graduate school to treat it and is ready to take clients. Call me biased (I’m not, though), but Erin is funny and compassionate and really knows her stuff.

How long have you had OCD? And when did you first realize what you’d been going through might be OCD?

I first had symptoms in 5th grade but I wasn’t officially diagnosed until 7th grade. I was too embarrassed to talk about my intrusive thoughts, so I didn’t realize that was a part of my OCD until years later.

What were your symptoms? 

In the beginning, my OCD was mostly rituals of “breathing in” and “swallowing on” the letter A so I would get A’s in my classes. I also did a lot of magical thinking, for example, having lucky and unlucky colors. It soon evolved to include repetitive praying and confessing to my mom thoughts, worries, and “bad” things I did, or else I believed something bad would happen. I frequently had horrible intrusive thoughts, both sexual and violent. That period of my life is fuzzy; I just remember it was extremely painful. Daily life was exhausting. I thought I was a horrible person and was in constant fear that something bad was going to happen to my family.

What do you think about the phrase “pure O”? Some therapists and people with OCD think it’s misleading because people with pure O do have compulsions—it’s just that they’re usually mental, not physical. Is there any benefit to the label anyway?

I’m still on the fence with this. In college and post-college, my OCD evolved into primarily mental symptoms with rumination, trying to“figure things out” by replaying scenarios over and over in my head, a constant fear of offending people, and reassurance seeking.

Even though I do believe there are compulsions with pure O, I think many people relate more to the term pure O. I’ve talked to several individuals who have obvious obsessional symptoms of OCD, but they do not recognize their compulsive behaviors. They do not believe they have OCD without the compulsive aspect and therefore do not seek treatment. This can be extremely distressing for individuals, especially those with pedophilic, gay, sexual, and violent intrusive thoughts. They feel there is no explanation for what they are going through. They may fear they are actually a “pervert” or want to kill someone, etc. The general population also still sees OCD as an anxiety disorder that just consists of handwashing and being ultra-organized (which I am not…). Hopefully the term pure O will lead to more awareness of the other aspects of OCD.


Erin’s kitten, Kitty!

Once you knew you had OCD, how did you go about treating it? How long did it take before you began to feel some relief?

I did not receive the proper treatment for OCD until 14 years after I was first diagnosed. Before exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, I saw several talk therapists, but found little relief. When I was 28,  I saw Dr. Chris Donahue in Saint Paul. He made exposure scripts during each session, and I would listen to them as much as possible. It was about two months into treatment when I really began to notice a difference in my thought process and feel a huge weight lift.

You’ve used mindfulness to deal with some of your intrusive thoughts. How does it work? Does it work best in conjunction with therapeutic techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication?

The first thing I want to do when I have an intrusive thought is to judge the thought and judge myself. Why am I thinking this? This is so perverted. Why is this happening to me? Just stop thinking. I can’t stop thinking about this thought. I cannot stop ruminating about what happened. This leads down a rabbit hole of shame and negative self-talk. I use mindfulness to separate myself from my thoughts. I imagine thoughts as orbs floating and I observe them. I notice my anxiety and accept that it’s there. Sometimes I imagine myself on a diving board looking into a pool. I see my thoughts, and accept that they are there, without diving into the swamp. Imagery and acceptance has been a crucial component of my treatment.

Mindfulness is definitely best used with cognitive-behavorial therapy (CBT) as you begin to recognize the cognitive distortions in your thoughts. Am I catastrophizing this scenario that I have repeating in my head for the past three hours? Is this black and white thinking? Where can I see the gray in this situation?

I have a complicated relationship with medication. I do believe it can be essential in helping people with OCD, but I believe ERP is the silver bullet. Like ERP, it took years before I found a medication combination that worked for me. My hope is that medication will be prescribed more slowly and methodically while encouraging it to be taken in conjunction to therapy. Like with ERP and finding a therapist, do your research on medication and finding a physician’s assistant or psychiatrist who is thorough and understands OCD.

What has been the most difficult part of having OCD? 

It’s exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally. In the heat of the battle, it feels as if you never get a break.


You’ve recently graduated with your master’s in counseling—congratulations! You plan on specializing in OCD, using both ERP and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is a more recent mode of treatment for individuals with OCD. Can you explain what it entails?

Thank you! I was very fortunate to work at the Minnesota Center for Psychology in Saint Paul for over two years as a receptionist. They run excellent DBT programs, and I learned a great deal about DBT while working there. DBT has four modules: emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness, and distress tolerance.

The primary concept I use in OCD treatment is being in the present moment, noticing your thoughts and feelings without reacting or judging. ERP therapy is all about feeling and accepting your anxiety until the distress naturally decreases without distracting yourself or resorting to a safety behavior.

I encourage clients to “urge surf” when they are tempted to perform a compulsion or ritual. This is a mindfulness technique used in DBT. I tell clients when they have an urge to ritualize, ride out that urge, notice where the anxiety goes, and imagine surfing to the shore as the urge decreases. We want clients to break the cycle of using compulsions and rituals to lower their distress, and instead ride through the discomfort. OCD is also accompanied by general anxiety, so I utilize the self-care aspects of DBT, but not for during exposures.

You’ve also decided not to require that your clients have insurance, and you’re going to charge on a sliding fee scale. Why? 

Due to the rising costs of health care, insurance benefits have increasingly become more complex. Self-pay ensures that the client’s records and diagnoses are entirely confidential documents, as I will not have to submit them to insurance or a third-party payer. The content of sessions stays between myself, the client, and my supervisor, Dr. Vernon Devine, who has more than 46 years experience treating individuals with anxiety disorders.

Due to the nature of exposure therapy, treatment often involves appointments that need to be longer than an hour, multiple sessions a week, at-home sessions, and public exposures. Self-pay allows for treatment freedom as well as the time to get to the root of the problems the client is facing. It makes treatment much more effective. Typically treatment lasts no longer than three months before going to an as-needed appointment basis.

For individuals who are adamant about using insurance, I am happy to refer them to other therapists and give some general guidance for seeking treatment.


If you could offer just one piece of advice to others with OCD, what would it be?

Be sure you get a therapist who is well versed in ERP. A therapist should help you create a hierarchy to confront your fears and anxiety and not be afraid to challenge you. A therapist does not need to have a PhD or PsyD to be qualified. Several therapists who are MA, LPCC, or LICSW are excellent at treating OCD.

Also, find a support network. If you’re here in the Twin Cities area, join the OCD Twin Cities book club or a support group, and if you’re not, look into support groups and International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) affiliates in your area. I am working on starting an OCD therapy group. Look at the IOCDF website. Read books about OCD and educate yourself. Talking to people who understand and realizing how closely your symptoms relate to others can be a huge step in recovery.

OCD is a misunderstood and extremely painful disorder. However, I have found people with OCD are some of the strongest, most intelligent, and creative individuals. We feel emotions deeply and are highly sensitive. There is a way to harness strength in your OCD and embrace the uncertainty of life.

Tuesday Q&A: Renae Reinardy


Lakeside Center Dr. Reinardy PicAs some of you may know, I’m president of my local chapter of the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), OCD Twin Cities. But I didn’t found the affiliate — today’s guest Renae Reinardy did. She and her co-founder Randy Herrera did all the hard work to get the nonprofit up and running, and I took over two years ago after Renae moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where she has her own practice, Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change.

Renae is an expert in the treatment of OCD and related disorders, including hoarding — she appeared on the the A&E series Hoarders and produced a documentary called Information About Compulsive Hoarding. Thanks for joining us, Renae!

We were introduced when I took over as president of OCD Twin Cities. I had some big shoes to fill! Why did you decide to start the affiliate here, and how did the whole process work?

Randy approached me and said he would like to start an affiliate and would like my help. I was totally swamped in my office, but knew how important it was to have this resource so we worked hard and quickly to get the affiliate off the ground. We were happy to have everything in place by the IOCDF conference that was held in Minneapolis. I loved being a part of the affiliate and we had some wonderful events and fantastic volunteers.

What do you consider your biggest success with OCD Twin Cities?

Some of the highlights were the golf tournament fundraiser, sponsoring two therapists to attend the Behavioral Training Institute, donations to children at Rogers Memorial Hospital from Build a Bear, support group awareness, and our quarterly meetings.

You treat OCD and related disorders, including hoarding. In the last revision of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), hoarding was changed from a symptom of OCD to a disorder under its own category. What do you think about that change? 

It is wonderful to see hoarding disorder in the DSM-V. This validates millions of people’s experience with this disorder by giving it an official title (even if people don’t like the term “hoarding”). It also means that more research can be done in this area. Hoarding is a complex behavior that comes in many varieties. Co-morbid conditions really influence the approach that a therapist should take in treatment. Hoarding can be exacerbated by depression, ADD/ADHD, trauma, eating disorders, dementia, and/or OCD. Hoarding and OCD are different conditions but do share some common features.

What is the best line of treatment for hoarding?

Treatment varies depending on the symptoms that the person is experiencing. A client who has hoarding and trauma will have a very different treatment plan than someone with hoarding and ADHD. When compulsive acquisition is a factor, we will talk about non-acquiring exercises such as non-shopping sprees. Treatment commonly includes cognitive restructuring, exposure to discarding, improving decision-making skills, and replacement behaviors.

You also treat dermatillomania (skin picking) and trichotillomania (hair pulling), both compulsive behaviors that go beyond messing with a pimple or tweezing stray hairs. How common are these disorders? How are they treated–and do you use similar techniques for both?

Hair pulling and skin picking are very common conditions. They fall under an umbrella titled body-focused repetitive behaviors, which also includes nail biting. Everyone picks, pulls, or bites skin, hair, or nails at some point, but when these behaviors become out of control and damage results then it becomes a clinical issue. There are many skills available to help people with these conditions. I also wrote this article that discusses treatment.

Courage Critter back pocket

You invented Courage Critters to help children face their fears. How do Courage Critters work–and why is it so important that parents and caregivers encourage kids not to back down from their fears?

The mission of Courage Critters is to Empower, Support, Protect and Love children who are experiencing fear or body-focused repetitive behaviors. Through the website, children can begin to learn lifelong skills to help them confront fears rather than engage in avoidance or non-adaptive coping behaviors.

On the website, children and caregivers will find a section called Fear Busting Tools. Under this section, there are several tabs that describe the skills offered as part of the Courage Club. The Standing Up to Your Fear Bully Plan tab will help children to identify their fear bully and the impact it has on their behaviors. There will be questions to help guide caregivers through this process to really know how fear impacts the child. Once we know what we are dealing with, then we will develop a plan to gradually stand up to the fear bully. This is where children grow some huge emotional muscles! Fear is measured with a fear thermometer and children and their caregivers make small goals to gradually change behavior. There is an example of how to set up this plan under the tab, Example: Standing Up to Your Fear Bully Plan.

The Good Coach Thinking tab will show consumers how to identify the “fear bully talk” inside of the child’s head. When we know what the fear bully is telling us, we can start to challenge and change those thoughts into “good coach thinking.” There are a series of short questions to help children identify, challenge and change unhelpful thoughts. The tab, Example: Good Coach Thinking can show consumers how to use this skill.

Relaxation is another really important skill that can be practiced. There are many relaxation tools that can help our mind and body become calm. Caregivers and children will find an example of one under the tab, Relaxing Breath.

Through the use of these skills children feel more confident, courageous and ready to take on their fear bully. Having a tough-looking little green sidekick doesn’t hurt either.

Can all children benefit from Courage Critters and its coping methods, or is it especially helpful for kids with a disorder like OCD?

The Courage Critters program is a tool that parents, caregivers, teachers, doctors, and children can use as a guide to decrease common childhood fears and body-focused behaviors. The Courage Critter will provide the child with comfort while this website offers a fun, and interactive program. As a member of the Courage Club consumers will be able to access all pages on the Courage Critters website. Many children struggle with common childhood fears every day. Fears of the dark, storms, medical procedures, and new places are just a few examples of common fear triggers. Childhood fears are amplified by a child’s imagination and difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy. Courage Critters helps a child to use their imagination skills to empower, support and protect them in situations that cause many of these common childhood fears. This can be especially helpful for children with OCD and related conditions. Courage Critters also aims to help children with Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs). There are many behaviors that fall under the category of BFRBs. Some of the most common include nail biting, skin picking and hair pulling. These behaviors affect millions of people, but most kids who have a BFRB feel very alone. The Courage Critters program lets them know that they are not alone and that there are many useful skills that can be utilized to decrease unwanted behaviors.

You’ve lived in large metropolitan areas, and you currently live in Fargo, North Dakota, which is bigger than many people realize. But there are several small towns and farming communities in the surrounding area, both in Minnesota and North Dakota. What advice do you have for people who live in more remote rural areas with minimal access to proper OCD treatment?

Many of my North Dakota clients drive long distances for therapy. Although, this was still the case when I practiced just outside of Washington DC. Access to treatment remains a challenge for many, but it is getting better. It is great to support organizations like the IOCDF and your local affiliates. Raise awareness of these conditions by providing information to your doctors. There is training and supervision available for therapists who are interested in learning more about OCD and related conditions. Some therapists offer video conferencing or phone sessions to clients who do not have anyone in their area. You can find a therapist in your area by visiting

What tips do you have for preventing relapse? Is some degree of relapse inevitable?

It is important for clients to really understand how to do exposure and response prevention with all of the manifestations their OCD may take. As a therapist, I go from being a teacher to a consultant with my clients. I want them to know the necessary skills to keep moving forward. It is good to keep on eye on symptoms and use all of their tools to keep symptoms from returning. When symptoms are caught early, it is unlikely for them to grow to the point of being unmanageable. Keep being honest with yourself and call your provider if you notice that you may need a “tune-up.”

If you could share just one piece of advice with people with OCD, what would it be?

Think of your OCD as a third grade bully. You cannot reason with it, or convince it of factual information. The best way to stand up to this bully is through exposure exercises to desensitize to the bully. This allows the internal heckling to move to the background, lose power, and eventually go away. For many of my clients the goal is to decrease OCD bully talk, behaviors, and sensations to less than 10 percent. Do your ERP skills and have a structured hierarchy to gradually stand up to your fears. You cannot train for a marathon in a day; it can also take a little while to build your emotional muscles to stand up to OCD. Fortunately, it gets easier as you go, and this is a battle you can win. Find the right amount of support on your journey.

Tuesday Q&A: Jackie Lea Sommers


Jackie Lea Sommers headshot7

Have I mentioned how lucky I am to know so many wonderful people in the OCD community? It wasn’t that long ago that I’d never even met one other person with OCD—let alone someone who had an experience so similar to mine.

Fate stepped in when the International OCD Foundation asked both me and Jackie Lea Sommers to blog about our personal experiences with OCD. In Jackie’s first post she mentioned that she grew up in a small town in Minnesota—hey, me too! So I wrote a comment after her post telling her how great it was and that I’d love to connect sometime.

We met for coffee–even though Jackie doesn’t actually drink coffee–and the rest is history. Here was someone who really understood OCD, right in my own backyard. We’d both struggled with HOCD and scrupulosity, too. When the IOCDF asked us if we’d run their Minneapolis affiliate, OCD Twin Cities, we said yes with the caveat that we’re busy women—with an anxiety disorder! Of course, the IOCDF knows a thing or two about that, so we talked it all through and got the ball rolling. Jackie’s the communications specialist, a great fit for her. You’ll understand why when you read our Q&A below—she has a way with words and a passion for connecting others to the proper treatment.

Jackie, Jackie, Jackie. You’re my trusted OCD Twin Cities partner, you have a popular blog with a substantial section on OCD, and you often speak at University of Northwestern about your personal experience with the disorder. But long before you became an advocate, you suffered in silence. How many years did you struggle with obsessions and compulsions before you were diagnosed and got help?

In hindsight, I can see that my OCD kicked in at age seven. I was finally diagnosed 15 years later. But even after my diagnosis, it still took another five years before I finally underwent the exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy that gave me back my freedom!

You left no stone unturned as you worked to get relief. You tried several medications before you found the right combination for you, and you finally went through 12 weeks of ERP. How did you keep the faith and keep on pushing through the disappointments and doubts?

Five years of failed medication and talk therapy is really disheartening. I had one therapist who made me feel worthless and ashamed; after I quit seeing her, I avoided therapy for a year or so. The same thing happened with meds. I’ve had just about every side effect in the book—vision loss, weight gain, tremors, dry mouth, excessive sweating, blocking (a form of stuttering), lactation (yes, really), and a near-fatal allergic reaction—but it was the extreme lethargy I experienced on one prescription that finally made me avoid all medication for a year. When I went back (and tried a couple more failed meds), my psychiatrist finally referred me to an OCD expert. He got me on the right medication and into ERP therapy almost immediately. It was worth it all.

I know you were scared to go through ERP, and you’ve described the process as hell on earth. Now you’re one of its strongest advocates. Tell us why.

I like to say that ERP is the second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do—but the absolute hardest was living daily life with OCD. When you look at it that way, it makes sense. I chose to do something hard for twelve weeks so that I wouldn’t have to live with the hardest for the rest of my life.

ERP is the frontline treatment for OCD; it shouldn’t have taken five years after my diagnosis for someone to recommend it to me. That’s why I tell the OCD sufferers who read my blog to run toward ERP. Twenty years of OCD bondage was broken for me in just twelve weeks of ERP therapy.

You’re on medication, too, which can carry such a stigma. I know people within the OCD community who consider it a badge of honor to get through it all without ever going on medication, or eventually weaning themselves off it. Have you ever questioned whether you should take medication for your OCD? What keeps you taking it day in and day out?

I’ve never been ashamed of my medication. There’s no reason for me to be. I have something off chemically in my body, so I’m fixing it chemically so that I have all the same advantages as everyone else. I know that the stigma exists, but it’s hard for me to understand why. Do those same people think that diabetics shouldn’t get insulin shots?

I fought for my freedom from OCD. I went through years of side effects to find the right medication. I’m proud of my persistence to get the help I needed. These things feel a little narcissistic to say, but I say them anyway because I want other people to be able to say them too!

If someone asked me to describe you in just a few words, I may have to go with “devout Christian.” Your faith plays such a tremendous role in not only your recovery from OCD but in your life as a whole. But that doesn’t mean you think prayer alone is the answer to OCD or any mental illness. Was there a time when you thought prayer alone might save you, and how did you realize you needed professional help? 

Oh yes, definitely. I spent the majority of my high school and college life praying for deliverance from OCD (though I didn’t know it was OCD at the time). When I finally started to get help, it was with a Christian therapist and a Christian psychiatrist—then another Christian therapist, then another Christian psychiatrist. But what I needed was someone skilled in treating ERP—whether they were a Christian or not. When you have scrupulosity and other religious obsessions, you can get tied up in trying to “solve” your obsessions (i.e. compulsions)—instead of treating OCD. It’s a very clever distraction OCD uses to keep itself in power. But OCD is a medical problem; it needs to be treated. If I was about to have heart surgery, would I want to find a kind Christian doctor—or an expert heart surgeon? Hands-down, I’d choose the expert. And that’s what I needed to do with treating my OCD too—find someone who understood OCD, not someone who understood my faith.


Jackie draws a crowd at University of Northwestern

One of the types of OCD you’ve really struggled with is scrupulosity, and in that case prayer can actually be a compulsion! How does someone with faith reconcile this and recognize the difference between obsessive behaviors and a healthy devotion?

My ERP therapist asked me early on, “Can you tell the difference between when you’re praying obsessively/ritualistically and when you’re engaged in honest worship or prayer?” I said yes and meant it. One happened as a compulsion, with a racing heart, intense anxiety, and a feeling that I was just trying to distract myself. The other was a conversation with someone I love intensely. The gap between the two is great, and that gulf has only widened in my mind the more I’ve been set free from OCD!

Your blog serves as both an inspiration and practical resource for your many readers with OCD. Why did you decide to start a blog and devote much of it to OCD? And, come on—how hard was it at first to put some of your obsessions out there for others to read? 

To be honest, I started the blog to help build a platform for myself as a writer, and at the time I was writing about OCD (as I am again!), so it felt natural to reach out to such an audience as it might be the same people who’d be interested in the story I was writing. But over the years, it’s become more of a labor of love. The more I have interacted with the OCD community, the more I love it and hurt for it. I so greatly desire for there to be a landing page when a frustrated parent Googles “my child thinks bad thoughts” or when a person in an identity crisis searches “I am straight but think I’m gay.” I want that landing page to be my website—and for it to immediately point them to the solution of ERP therapy.

As far as being scared to put my obsessions “out there,” it definitely has depended on the obsession. I spent so many years in shame; it’s hard to shed that like a coat! But, bit by bit, I’ve peeled it back—or rather, the acceptance I’ve gotten from people, the kind reactions, the “me too”s have done so. When I feel fear about putting an obsession online, I think of the people out there who think they are the only ones, and I want them to know they’re not alone, so that sort of drives me to write about experiences that maybe I’d rather not make public. I know how hard it is to speak first, but since I’ve found such freedom and confidence, I’m willing to do it, so that other people can say, “Me too.” I think of it as a gift.

After years of responding to pretty much everyone who ever reached out to you for help, you made the difficult decision to shut down the email portion of your blog. Why did you move forward with this decision, even though you initially felt guilty about it?

I am so honored by every email I receive from brave OCD sufferers willing to share their story, but after about 2,500 emails in the course of a couple years, it was beginning to be more than I could handle. I’m not a professional, not equipped to handle so much pain being handed to me over and over and over. Eventually I had to take my email address off my website and write a generic but heartfelt letter to all OCD sufferers with my best advice to them: find a skilled ERP therapist or do ERP on your own with a book to guide you. For so long, I wanted to be everyone’s cheerleader, to cheer them on to health—but it wasn’t healthy for me! It was a hard decision to step back, but I needed to be a writer and blogger and OCD survivor, and let that be enough.

Your young adult novel, Truest, will be released by Harper-Collins September 1 this year. But before Truest you wrote a novel about OCD, which you share on your blog. How did you decide to write a book about such a personal experience, even as fiction? Did you find it therapeutic?

It was very therapeutic. In fact, it helped me to understand what had really happened during ERP therapy! Though that book will never see the light of day, I’m writing another young adult novel now about a character with OCD. It’s interesting to be writing fiction about OCD again. I don’t always like it. But I love the characters and am excited that it might shed some light on OCD for teens.

If you could give someone with OCD just one piece of advice, what would it be?


OCD Twin Cities Presents Jeff Bell


I can’t tell you how excited I am to be hosting Jeff Bell this Sunday night. I met Jeff at the OCD Conference in LA over the summer, and I was struck by his compassion and patience. He really is a tireless advocate, and his story of overcoming the worst of his OCD symptoms is fascinating whether you know much about OCD or not.

If you live in the Twin Cities, I hope you’ll join us!

JeffBellJeff Bell is an author, health advocate, and radio news anchor. His two books, Rewind, Replay, Repeat and When in Doubt, Make Belief, have established Bell as a leading voice for mental health awareness and “Greater Good” motivation. Bell serves as national spokesman for the International OCD Foundation and lends his support to numerous wellness organizations, including Mental Health America, which has honored him with its prestigious forWARDS Award, for “moving the cause of mental health forward.” In 2011, he co-founded the nonprofit A2A Alliance (, aiming to showcase and foster the power of turning adversity into advocacy. Bell is a 20-year veteran of broadcast news and currently co-anchors the KCBS Afternoon News, winner of the 2014 Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast in America.

OCD Twin Cities Presents an Evening with Jeff Bell: An OCD Awareness Week Kickoff Event

October 12, 2014
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Amherst H. Wilder Auditorium (Auditorium A)
451 Lexington Parkway North, St. Paul, MN 55104

International OCD Foundation spokesperson, author, and mental health advocate Jeff Bell will share his inspiring story of triumph over adversity.

6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Time to mingle and browse the mini bookstore

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Jeff Bell speaks

7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Q&A with Jeff Bell

8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Book signing with Jeff Bell and OCD Twin Cities president Alison Dotson, author of Being Me with OCD. Enjoy light refreshments and meet others in the OCD community!

OCD Twin Cities event with Jeff Bell!



Residents of the Twin Cities, mark your calendars for Sunday, October 12: Jeff Bell will be speaking at our event to kick off OCD Awareness Week 2014!  If you have never heard Jeff Bell speak, let me tell you now: you do NOT want to miss this!  He is amazing. I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff back in 2012 when he interviewed me at an OCD Foundation event. If you’ve heard or met Jeff before, then you already know that this event is not to be missed.

Details are here.  Let me know if you have questions!

ocd twin cities

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