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Today’s blog entry comes from Menno Oosterhoff, a psychiatrist and board member for Dwang.eu, an IOCDF Global Partner based in the Netherlands. Dr. Oosterhoff’s post represents both a global perspective on mental health issues and that of a treatment provider with OCD himself, resulting in a unique point of view we are thrilled to share with readers.

His mother rang me. The day before, I had spoken to her 17-year-old son about his compulsive thoughts. She wanted to let me know that her son had felt understood and he had added, “I bet that man suffers from it himself. Otherwise he would not be able to know so precisely how I feel.”

Years before I had seen a patient with a completely different view. The patient was a young woman who was constantly worrying. “I wish I was a psychiatrist,” she said. “It seems so beautiful to always be happy.” I did not tell her that medical doctors are more often depressed, addicted, and have higher rates of suicide than the average person.

A problem shared?

As a professional, I try to be myself in contacts with my patients. But should this also be the case when it involves your own problems? Should a practitioner tell patients that he or she knows from one’s own experience what the patient struggles with? A problem shared is a problem halved, but problems are shared with partners in misfortune. Can a professional be a fellow sufferer at the same time?

It is a complex problem, like a builder living in a ruin, a relationship therapist with a troubled marriage, or a doctor becoming ill. Somehow it seems distorted. However, a family doctor with diabetes doesn’t seem that out of place, right?

I am a fervent advocate of therapists in (mental) health care being open about their own psychological problems. By being open, we show people with mental illness that they don’t have to be ashamed. If we don’t dare to be open about it, who can we expect openness from? However being open in general is different from being open in a patient–health provider relationship. 

And what about “that man?”

So what is my own situation? Does “that man” suffer from it himself? Yes, I suffer from OCD. It feels very vulnerable to admit that publicly, but I am past being ashamed of it. The disorder often causes me to feel, do, and think strange things, but it is detached from my value as a person. I am one of the lucky ones: my social functioning is not affected by it; that is not a virtue but pure luck. And as a professional, I know what is going on and therefore, I know what the best approach for treatment is.

Until now, I have never talked about my own obsessive compulsive disorder with my patients. In most cases, it seemed neither useful nor necessary, but maybe I also was not ready for it yet. I am currently more publicly active to raise awareness for OCD. One of the things that I want to bring across is that it is not a condition to be ashamed of. And in that context, it seems inappropriate to conceal my own experiences. 


And what about psychiatrists always being happy? Well, not so. Psychiatrists are as prone to mental disorders as other people are. My OCD is often tormenting me. It has spoiled an awful lot, but on the other hand, it has not ruined my life. That’s because there has been improvement. As long as there is improvement, a human being can endure much, even if it is persistent problem. More often than not this is the case with the obsessive compulsive disorder. OCD is treatable and therefore improvement is possible, but usually not without help. That is what I try to impress on anyone who suffers from this condition: seek help!

So my patient was right: I have “it,” too — for 40 years already — but it is much better than it used to be. Am I always happy? Often enough.

IOCDF Global Partners are nonprofits that share our mission of OCD awareness and advocacy in countries around the globe. Learn more here.



  • Pamela Simpson

    Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Mark

    Brilliant. This echoes my experiences and I am so pleased to see a professional discuss openly. I have just released a book “Ordinaty X Childhood Dreams” and it’s incredible to think that we are not so alone anymore. A sobering reminder that we must not isolate ourselves from society in any way. Be loud and proud and share experiences and hope

  • Mark

    Oops. Sausage fingers. Ordinary Childhood Dreams.

  • Carol

    Hi, thanks for sharing. I am a therapist specializing in OCD treatment. I am also an OCD sufferer. I am very upfront about it, and my clients say I really “get it”. To me, I feel it is a great advantage. I can say things like, “Do you ever get an obsession and it seems like blinders go on and it is the only important thing in the world to be solved or fixed right that very second?” Or, “So do you sometimes have an obsession that seems like a real concern that any upstanding citizen would take precautions for?”

    I share my own examples when appropriate. I lead groups and they love to laugh at my stories like when I was convinced I was gay for 5 minutes after having been married to my husband for 30 years. I have clients from age 7 to 65. I usually am quite upfront and will tell someone in the first session and find it eases their anxiety about telling me their obsessions of which they have been ashamed. However, once I forgot to reveal that I too have OCD. After the client described her thinking processes about how contamination could spread and how vigilantly she tried to protect her children, I told the her, “Oh, I know what you mean. So first you think, well what if that happens, and then this could happen next, and how about this happening, and pretty soon you have the worst catastrophe ever, you are sick, dying, without a job, homeless?” The client looked puzzled and said, “Wait a minute. Do you HAVE this?”

    One client who had never spoken of her intense mental battles came and on the first session said to me, “Well, I have a few worries but I am sure you would think they were stupid.” I said, “Well, I doubt that. Why don’t you tell me?” When I told her that I had heard the same fears dozens of times before, and that because I have OCD as well, I could fully identify and empathize, she told me at the end of the session, “I have never felt so understood in all my life.”

    I certainly didn’t choose to have OCD, but I feel blessed in giving back to helping other sufferers out of the hell that I lived in for close to 30 years before finding the proper treatment. When I looked around and realized how very few trained providers were in my area, I went back to school at age 50 to get my MA in Counseling/Psychology. Fortunately, we are located in an area where more therapists are qualified to use ERP, but I still have clients driving for up to 3 hours each way. I love my job and I love helping others gain freedom from the prison that OCD wants to keep us in.

  • I just read this post. Well done for being open and honest. I too suffered from OCD and now a qualified OCD specialist helping sufferers worldwide. I believe that experience is the greatest teacher.

  • Jeff Szymanski

    At our Annual OCD Conference we run a support group for mental health professionals with OCD who treat individuals with OCD. We had at least 2 dozen attendees last year. So amazing to see!

  • Thank you all for your kind words. It touched me.
    I too think that professionals who suffer(ed) from a mental disorder, can be of good help for a better understanding that mental disorders are a disease and not a decision.


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