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Paula KotakisIn addition to highlighting the presenters who will be at this year’s conference, we also want this blog to highlight the point of view of conference attendees.  Paula Kotakis from San Francisco, CA, has been going to IOCDF conferences for nearly 16 years. She is also an active member of the online OCD community, moderating an online support group for those who hoard, in addition to helping to moderate an online group about the IOCDF conference.  In this blog, Paula opens up about her first IOCDF conference, and her experiences since.

Tell us a little about your background: How did you find out about the IOCDF? What made you first want to attend the Annual Conference?

I was diagnosed with OCD in 1994 (undiagnosed for 11 years) and joined the now-defunct OCD-L listserv that same year.  A Canadian member named Marie Ann posted about the conferences (she’s been to nearly all of them!) so I decided to attend based on her and others’ recommendations, as well as my own positive experiences as a member of an in-person support group where I live in San Francisco.  It helped that the conference was going to be held in California that year.

When was your first IOCDF Conference?

San Jose, California, 1996.  Coincidentally, I’m wearing the t-shirt from that conference right now.  It reads on the back, “There is no one who can’t get better; Therefore, there is nothing that can’t get done.”

What made you decide to attend?

I wanted to learn more about the disorder and I wanted to meet my online buddies in person.

Were you nervous about attending?

Incredibly so.  I have co-morbid Social Anxiety Disorder, so the thought of being in a crowd of hundreds was frightening.  It was well worth taking the risk, though.  I was bathed in sweat the whole weekend, but… so what?!

What was the first year attending like?  Any memorable moments?

It was amazing; the OCD community is amazing.  An OCD-L online friend of mine from Green Bay Wisconsin shared a room with me and we had fun meeting up with our other online buddies at the conference.  Putting faces to names was really exciting, and many of us are still in contact after all these years.  We enjoy meeting up at the annual conferences; some of us have even vacationed at each others’ homes.  The IOCDF conferences are really great for making those kinds of connections.

Most memorable moment: using one of the restrooms on that first day and seeing the shocked look of the hotel’s housekeeping staff while trying to keep up with the demand for paper towels used by all of us Handwashers.  It was a guilty pleasure to witness others with handwashing rituals not trying to hide them for once, all the while inspired to engage in ERP, some for the first time!

Did you feel out of place as a non-therapist?

Not at all.  The IOCDF conferences are really well attended by people with OCD as well as our loved ones.  It is a wonderful mixture of everyone from the OCD community, including therapists and researchers.

Were the talks easy to understand?

Yes.  The handouts were great, the topics wonderful and varied, the presenters well prepared and generous in answering questions.

Were they helpful?

I’m a workshop junkie, so yes, very much so.  Learning about my disorder was crucial to my own treatment.

Do you have a favorite talk from past year’s conferences?

Yes, the Gail Steketee & Randy Frost workshop on compulsive hoarding at the 1996 San Jose conference will always stand out for me.  It’s where I learned that I had a hoarding disorder (I had previously thought my only symptom was contamination), and it was my first introduction into this fascinating, if maddening, spectrum disorder.  I was so motivated by what I learned at that Frost & Steketee workshop and the 12-page handout they produced that I started an online support group for compulsive hoarding based on their treatment protocol two years later.  It’s still going strong!

If you could give any advice to someone who is not sure about attending the conference, what would you tell them?

Take the risk!  You won’t know what you would have missed unless you commit to attending the conference.

As someone dealing with OCD yourself, what was it like to be at a conference filled with others who could relate to your disorder?

Nothing can compare to the joy of being with others who know what the struggle of OCD is like, whether they be family members, clinicians, or people with OCD themselves.  Being surrounded by people committed to improving the lives of those touched by OCD is an experience not to be missed at least once in your lifetime.  I’ll bet you won’t be sorry for attending and it may very well change your life.  It sure did mine!

Thank you, Paula. To visit the online IOCDF conference group moderated by Paula, visit: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/CC-OCF/. While not run by IOCDF, this group is another great source of info, moderated by past attendees. 


  • Steve Milligan

    Great review Paula!!
    I’m only 130 miles southwest of Chicago but, unfortunately, won’t make it.
    Maybe another year.




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