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By Samantha Bray

The weekend before the IOCDF’s 23rd Annual OCD Conference in Chicago in 2016, I was one of a lucky handful of therapists who had the opportunity to observe Dr. Reid Wilson’s two-day intensive OCD treatment group. I had tried to register to observe his group twice before, but was always a hair too late to get in! This time, I had made it onto the waitlist and was excited to get the notice that a spot had opened up for me.

My expectations for that weekend were that I would get a lot of questions answered about the best practices to treat OCD, but that the learning would be entirely hands-off, with no interaction with the group members and limited (if any) interaction with Dr. Wilson himself. What I ended up experiencing not only exceeded my expectations, but fundamentally changed the way I thought about the treatment of OCD, and will forever be an influence on my work as an OCD therapist and supervisor.

On the first day of the session, I walked into the hotel conference room where the treatment group would meet. Ten chairs were set up in a horseshoe shape, with two tables positioned behind them for the observing therapists. At the front of the room was Dr. Wilson, sitting cross-legged next to his projector, a warm smile greeting each person as they entered.

As the participants affected by OCD began to introduce themselves, it was obvious that this was a very diverse group. They had come from all over the United States (and one had come from Europe) to be there. They were of a range of ages and backgrounds—some were married, some were parents, and others were single. All  =had a unique story and a unique presentation of OCD.

As the day progressed, it became apparent that although each participant had their own specific struggles and the content of their fears were very individualized, the way in which their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors manifested and maintained the OCD was very similar.

Dr. Wilson moved swiftly as he simultaneously invited participants to share their stories, provided them with educational material, and motivated them to follow his methods of “going towards the uncertainty.”

By lunchtime, the group had gathered enough courage and grit to go out and look for ways to willingly face their fears — some for the very first time!

Each observing therapist was partnered up with 2 to 3 group members. For me, it was so inspiring to head out to the streets of Chicago with these brave individuals. As we looked for a restaurant to have lunch, they were encouraging each other to “earn points” (one of the motivational techniques Dr. Wilson shares in his book and video series, Stopping the Noise in Your Head). Through this technique, group members “earned points” by moving from a place of ‘resistance’ to their anxiety to one of ‘permission’. When we reconvened following lunch, the members took turns sharing their successes. Most of them felt they were making great progress in moving this “big mass” (a term Dr. Wilson used to describe OCD).

Through the use of analogy, diagrams, and stories, Dr. Wilson was able to illustrate numerous challenging concepts to the group members, including:

  • Inertia and OCD
  • The power of paradox
  • OCD’s rules and why you can’t win
  • Winning strategies
  • The science of habituation

Being able to directly witness Dr. Wilson’s style of interacting, his tone of voice, and the body language he used to convey his message was priceless. If you are a therapist who has clients with OCD, or are considering treating clients with OCD and want to improve your skills and learn new tools to utilize in your treatment plans, observing Dr. Wilson conduct this group is a rare and valuable learning opportunity. Here is what I walked away with:

  • There is no substitute for witnessing an expert OCD therapist in action;
  • Access for direct consultation and processing with Dr. Wilson after each day helped pull ideas and concepts together more fully;
  • A chance to develop my own skill at understanding how to use analogies and examples to instill motivation and hope was immediately put to use after this training;
  • Finally, I noticed how inspired I was following this training, and experienced an increase in my confidence as I returned to my practice with new skills.

Since 2016, I’ve referred to Dr. Wilson’s techniques and tools (books, videos, and handouts) countless times. It is rare to have an opportunity to watch an expert therapist practice in such an intimate setting and I would highly recommend this opportunity to my peers.

To learn more about Dr. Wilson’s group, and to register, click here!

Samantha Bray, LCSW is the founder of Bray Counseling, a group practice located in Austin, TX specializing in the compassionate treatment of OCD, anxiety, and depressions. www.braycounseling.com

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