Surprising Study On Reduction Of Negative, Obsessional Thoughts

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childhood-trauma

We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that it is far from uncommon for those who have suffered significant childhood trauma to suffer obsessive, negative ruminations relating to the self as adults that become habitual and automatic. Frequently, too, these negative thoughts are irrational and unrealistic and researchers Gladding and  Schwartz have referred to them as deceptive brain messages.

In their book, entitled : You Are Not Your Brain, Gladding and  Schwartz provide examples of such intrusive and obstinately tenacious deceptive brain messages that include :

They argue that, in order to reduce such negative thinking it is necessary to take advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity (i.e. its ability to change itself) to ‘rewire’ it.  In order to achieve this, they recommend their FOUR STEP treatment method. The four steps are as follows :

  1. RELABEL the negative thoughts in a way which disempowers them (i.e. by labelling them as deceptive brain messages).
  2. REFRAME attitude towards these deceptive brain messages by viewing them as unimportant and false (click here for link to a useful reframing tool).
  3. REFOCUS attention, even whilst being aware of these deceptive brain messages, to a productive and positive activityor mental process.
  4. REVALUE : adopt a dismissive attitude towards the negative thoughts (aka deceptive brain messages) as having little or no value.

Of course, this is very much a simplification of their treatment method, and, to read about it fully, it would be necessary to read their book (see below). Also, a caveat is that the researchers advise that the method is only suitable for those who are suffering mild to moderate symptoms, rather than those with very serious conditions.

Nevertheless, for the purposes of this article it is not necessary to have read about the method in great detail as I only wish to focus on a study, conducted at UCLA, that revealed that those suffering from OCD could be helped by the treatment method outlined above in a surprising (and very encouraging) way.

intrusive-negative-thoughts

THE STUDY :

The purpose of the Four Step method is, as alluded to above, to rewire the brain in a beneficial way through the focusing of attention and, to test the hypothesis that this is possible, the study (referred to above) was conducted involving individuals who suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD) and experienced continual, negative, repetitive intrusive thoughts which caused them distress.These individuals were then split into two groups, as described below :

GROUP ONE : These individuals were treated with MEDICATION.

GROUP TWO : These individuals were treated by learning the Four Step method (described above).

In order to measure the effectiveness of the treatment given to the participants from each group, each participant underwent a brain scan BEFORE the treatment and, also, TEN TO TWELVE WEEKS after their particular type of treatment (either medication or the Four Step method)

RESULTS :

It was found that the GROUP TWO (the Four Step method group) participants’ brains were positively changed JUST AS EFFECTIVELY as the brains of participants in GROUP ONE (the medication group).

These results add to the now overwhelming body of evidence that, due to its neuroplasticity, the brain can undergo beneficial biological changes in response to therapies that train the individual, over a period of time, to intensely refocus his / her attention (in connection to this, you may also be interested in reading my previously published article on mindfulness meditation).

SURPRISING FOLLOW-UP STUDY :

Even more encouragingly, a follow-up staudy conducted in Germany found that participants suffering from OCD experienced a statistically significant reduction in their symptoms JUST BY LISTENING TO A CD THAT EXPLAINED THE FOUR STEP METHOD. This finding adds to the pool of evidence showing that psychoeducation alone can be helpful to individuals suffering from mental health problems.

This suggests that just understanding what our mental health problem is, and how therapy can potentially help us, in and of itself, may help to ameliorate some mental health conditions.

 

Learn reframing techniques for negative statements

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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