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Drs. Allen Weg, Marla Deibler and Rachel Strohl at the

"Ask The Experts" Panel, moderated by Dr. Diana Antinoro Burke

by Jennifer Kennedy, Psy.D.

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Our last quarterly presentation took place on the night of Monday, December 14th. For this quarterly presentation, we did something that we haven't done for a very, very long time- we offered a panel of OCD experts to respond to any questions regarding this disorder that both lay persons and mental health professionals could come up with. We had many hands go up, and the questions, which covered a wide variety of topics , were non-stop throughout the meeting. We had the largest turnout for this meeting than we have seen in a long time, and so we will probably repeat this event again at sometime in the not too distant future. Here is a quick review of the panel and moderator bios:

Allen H. Weg, Ed.D, is President of OCD New Jersey and a New Jersey licensed psychologist. Dr. Weg is on the Clinical and Scientific Advisory Board for the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), on the faculty for the Behavior Therapy Training Institute(BTTI), the training arm of IOCDF, and is faculty member for the Professional Training Institute, the certification and training service of the Trichotillomania Learning Center (TLC). He has authored "OCD Treatment Through Storytelling: A strategy for successful therapy," published by Oxford University Press. Dr. Weg is Founder and Executive Director of Stress and Anxiety Services of New Jersey, LLC, an outpatient independent group practice that specializes in the evidence-based treatment of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders. He and his associates have offices in East Brunswick and Springfield.

Marla Deibler, Psy.D, is the Vice President of OCD New Jersey, and is a licensed psychologist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She is Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC, an outpatient behavioral health treatment center that specializes in the evidence- based treatment of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders located in Cherry Hill, and Princeton, New Jersey. Dr. Deibler serves on the Board of Directors of the Trichotillomania Learning Center (TLC) as well as the Faculty of TLC's Professional Training Institute.

Rachel Strohl, Psy.D, is Secretary on the Board of Directors at OCD New Jersey, and is a New Jersey licensed psychologist. She has been an associate at Stress and Anxiety Services of NJ for over a decade. She has been certified in the treatment of OCD by the BTTI and BFRBs such as skin picking and compulsive hair pulling by TLC. Dr. Strohl has developed a specialization in the cognitive behavioral treatment of anxiety disorders and OCD Spectrum Disorders, and works with adults, adolescents, and children.

Dr. Diana Antinoro Burke is a licensed psychologist and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and an Associate at The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC, an outpatient behavioral health treatment center that specializes in the evidence-based treatment of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Drs. Weg, Deibler, and Strohl presented as a panel of experts, while Dr. Antinoro Burke served as moderator for the group. The audience consisted both of professionals and individuals suffering from OCD symptoms, or family members and loved ones of such individuals. Audience members posed a variety of relevant and thought-provoking questions to the panel of experts, generating a lively and informative discussion.

Professionals expressed concerns regarding how to differentiate OCD from other anxiety disorders with similar presenting symptoms. An audience member asked how to better distinguish between the racing thoughts (e.g., uncontrollable worries) common in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and the obsessive thoughts of OCD. The experts suggested garnering more information about the specific content and function of the thoughts. Many individuals with GAD have difficulty letting go of worries related to everyday life events, whereas the obsessive thoughts experienced by individuals with OCD are more defined and tend to serve as ways to reduce or neutralize the anxiety. These thoughts are commonly more bizarre in nature than those associated with GAD, and experienced by the individual as intrusive and unwanted.

Additional questions were asked about how to effectively treat obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms for children, adolescents, and adults. The panel discussed the importance of implementing the evidence- based treatment for OCD, called Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP) therapy. EX/RP therapy consists of developing a hierarchy of feared situations and slowly exposing the individual to these situations, all while blocking the associated compulsions.

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For children, the experts discussed using what is called a "fear thermometer" to help compose a hierarchy. As described by the panel, the child personifies the OCD by drawing a picture of it and giving it a name, allowing the child to "toss back" the OCD. Through placing themselves in increasingly feared situations and refraining from engaging in their compulsions, the child learns that such compulsions do not serve a purpose, and they are capable of overcoming the fears and anxieties of OCD.

The adult version of EX/RP is conducted similarly. Adults tend to complete a two-fold exposure, in which fears are confronted both cognitively (e.g., purposefully imagining fearful situations) and behaviorally (e.g., touching the contaminated spot on the floor). Individuals in the audience suffering from OCD symptoms spoke eloquently to the difficulties of completing these exposure exercises at home and without the clinician present. Possibly altering the current exposure exercise or engaging in problem-solving with the clinician was suggested. Individuals were also advised to make a motivational list of their reasons for engaging in exposure therapy, or arrange to be accountable to a clinician or loved one. Treatment for OCD was compared to running a marathon – with time and effort, the symptoms dissipate, and control over one's life is regained.

A variety of other questions were also asked and addressed, with each panel member giving some information from their perspective to nearly every question. Lots of great information was shared by those on the panel, and attendees seemed very excited about having this opportunity to hear from them.

Dr. Jennifer Kennedy is a post-doc fellow at Stress and Anxiety Services of New Jersey, LLC.

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