Monday, June 29, 2015

OCD: Treatment via Support Groups

By Guest Blogger Beth McCreary, Ph.D.

Support Groups for OCD

I appreciate the opportunity to share some information on OCD and Support Groups.  I’ll first summarize some information on OCD and its treatments, then share the information about OCD Support Groups.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) affects approximately 1.2% of the population of the United States in any given year.  Those living with OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that they find distressing and do not want to be having (“obsessions”), and from which they can sometimes gain temporary relief by engaging in overt or covert ritualized behaviors (“compulsions”).  However, engaging in compulsions can consume enormous time and energy, and, across the long term, actually perpetuates obsessive thoughts and associated anxiety.  The experience of OCD can range from frustrating and mildly interfering in quality of living to completely disabling.  OCD has strong genetic and other biological correlates, and tends to be episodic across the lifetime when effective treatment is not obtained.  Even with treatment, intrusive thoughts may continue to occur but do not have to interfere with quality of living once a person learns to respond to them differently (without rituals).

Effective treatments for OCD include exposure with response prevention (ERP, the “gold standard” behavioral intervention) and medication management.   ERP involves coming into contact with various triggers of obsessive thoughts (i.e., the “exposure”), then allowing oneself to feel anxious instead of trying to alleviate the anxiety by ritualizing (i.e., the “response prevention”).  Cognitive and mindfulness strategies are often helpful in conjunction with these treatments.  Obsessive thoughts are often viewed by the person experiencing them as evidence that s/he is morally bad, dangerous, or insane.  Cognitive intervention for OCD focuses on correcting these misattributions for obsessive thoughts.  Mindfulness practices can help people observe the body sensations of their anxiety and distress with acceptance instead of judgment, and focus on the task at hand while resisting the urge to ritualize during ERP, for example.

Jonathan Grayson, PhD, a leading authority on the treatment of OCD, and Gayle Frankel (President of the Philadelphia Affiliate of the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation at the time) began a support group for sufferers in Philadelphia over 30 years ago with the purpose of trying to prevent relapse in people who had undergone treatment for OCD.  With experience, they learned that dividing the group into three segments provided a necessary and productive structure.  The GOALS Group (Giving OCD-Sufferers Another Lifestyle) begins with a period of discussion of a topic related to OCD, then moves to a time for each attendee to plan a specific task to practice (e.g., a ritual reduction and/or an exposure) between groups, and ends with a period of completely social time for conversation and connecting.  That original group survives today, and has been the inspiration for many other groups across the country.  (See the Handbook for their GOALS group, here:

I started the Worthington, Ohio (northern suburb of Columbus) GOALS group in January 2013 and facilitate it twice per month.  We are a little broader in our goal-setting portion of the group, encouraging not only ERP tasks but also mindfulness strategies, self-monitoring of symptoms, and exercise or other forms of self-care—essentially anything specific that a person can work on to have a positive impact on his/her OCD.  Participants are encouraged to tell their stories, to support one another, and to actively choose to behave according to what they value in life rather than what the OCD “tells” them to do.  (If you are familiar with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, you can probably see how this combination of mindfulness of emotional and cognitive experience coupled with value-based behaving fits very well with ERP.)  Our GOALS group offers a combination of education and encouragement (not only from the facilitator but more importantly from participants with experience living with OCD), and supportive connections with others who truly understand how frightening and frustrating it can be to live with this brain condition.  Some participants come regularly, others occasionally, but almost all have commented that they have found it valuable both to be understood and to have reinforcement (and sometimes new information) regarding strategies for combatting OCD.  The group is intended as an adjunct to, not a replacement for, psychotherapy.

No direct referral is necessary.  Anyone age 18 and up who believes s/he has OCD is welcome to simply show up.  There is an informed consent form explaining some group parameters that is given to each attendant at the first visit.  For details on the time and place of the group, check the Mental Health America Franklin County (our sponsor)’s website, here:

For much more information on OCD and its treatment, see the International OCD Foundation’s website, here:

For a terrific self-help book on OCD (also a wonderful learning resource for practitioners), see Dr. Grayson’s recent book, “Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,” Updated Edition, 2014:

 * * * * * 
Beth McCreary, PhD, is a psychologist in her own private practice (Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services) in Worthington, Ohio.  She specializes in cognitive and behavioral interventions for anxiety disorders, and incorporates elements of mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy into her work.  Dr. McCreary obtained her doctorate from The Ohio State University (OSU) and completed postdoctoral work that included clinical training from the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic at OSU as well as a research component through Johns Hopkins University.  She has presented on the treatment of anxiety disorders to other practitioners and does some individual consulting as well.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mental Health Month: Did You Know?

By Guest Blogger: Kathleen Ashton, Ph.D.

Did you know?
  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population)
  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.

Every day I see patients with anxiety disorders that have gone undiagnosed, untreated, and interfere with their everyday life.  Fear, uncontrollable worry, muscle tension, poor sleep, poor appetite, difficulty concentrating—people with anxiety can really struggle just to get through the day.  The real tragedy is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet very few people receive treatment.  Even among those receiving treatment, they often are relying on short term medications that only temporarily relieve their symptoms.

We know that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective in treating anxiety disorders.  CBT helps patients identify thoughts that affect their anxiety and lead to changes in behavior.  By working with a psychologist trained in CBT, patients learn to identify maladaptive thought patterns and replace these with more functional ones.  Their anxiety can decrease dramatically, and this may lead to the patient being able to engage more pleasurably in their life.  A psychologist using CBT may also train the patient in methods to control their anxiety symptoms, such as relaxation training.  Psychologists may help the patient develop ways to confront and tolerate fearful situations through gradual exposure.

So why aren’t more patients with anxiety getting CBT?  First, many people still feel stigma about seeing a psychologist.  They worry they will have to go to years of costly therapy, and would like a quicker fix.  However, the reality is that most insurers cover CBT with a psychologist just like they cover medical costs.  Therapy for anxiety is usually brief (4-12 sessions), and the results can include skills that last a lifetime.

What are a few quick techniques that might give me a start on managing my anxiety?

1.       Stop and breathe for one minute.  Taking three long breaths, all the way from your belly can start to reverse the anxiety response and physical symptoms of anxiety.
2.       Ask yourself, “Is this in my control?”  Are you worrying about things that you have no power to change?  Try to focus on what you can do today.
3.       Focus on the here and now. Trying to predict the future is not very accurate.  Avoid “fortune telling.” 
4.       Take a small step outside your comfort zone.  If you’re anxious about heights for example, try taking the elevator to the third floor.  When you master, this, go up a floor every day and build your confidence.
5.       Check out your assumptions.  We worry about things all the time that just aren’t true (“She never talks to me so she must not like me.”)  Ask people what they are thinking rather than assuming.

* * * * * 

Kathleen Ashton, PhD, is a Psychologist in the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. She received her doctorate from The Ohio State University, and she completed specialty training in health psychology at the Cleveland VA Medical Center and Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Ashton’s clinical and research interests include bariatric surgery evaluation and treatment, binge eating disorder treatment, and behavioral weight management. She has presented extensively on the psychological treatment of obesity and psychological aspects of bariatric surgery, including at the American Society of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery and the International Conference on Eating Disorders.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

National Eating Disorders Week "Someday Melissa" Screening: Wrap-Up

On Wednesday, 2/25 from 6 - 9pm, the Ohio Psychological Association, in conjunction with Columbus State Community College, hosted a screening of the documentary "Someday Melissa." The documentary is the story of Melissa Avrin, who lost her life to an eating disorder. Following her death, Judy Avrin, Melissa’s mother, formed Someday Melissa – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, that was established to promote awareness of the dangers of eating disorders. The documentary is the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope. It’s the organization's desire that through the film, speaking engagements, this website, and educational materials, they will provide a beacon of hope to those suffering with their own disorder (

Over 40 students, faculty, and community members attended this event, which included an expert panel consisting of mental health professionals and survivors of eating disorders. Dr. Heather Guthrie represented the Ohio Psychological Association on the panel. Other panelists included Michael Hicks, M.S.Ed., LPC from the CSCC Counseling Center, Samantha Tortora, M.A., LPC-CR from the Center for Balanced Living, Sarah Blanda, and Courtney Ruppert, M.A.

Although National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is over, there will always be a need to spread awareness of Eating Disorders. NEDA has a great plethora of resources that you can utilize to spread awareness at this website: Here is the direct link to posters and other resources:

April is Minority Health Month

Friday, February 27, 2015

How To Be A Successful Health Fair Volunteer

By Guest Blogger: Kathleen Ashton, Ph.D.

□ Be prepared!

o Have your handouts, giveaways, and sign ready to go for the day of the fair.

o Consider bringing materials in a rolling bag: you don’t know how far you might need to walk.

o Arrive on time if not early to set up.

o Bring snacks/water if they are not provided for you.

o Wear comfortable shoes—you may be standing a lot or have to walk far.

o Bring a camera to record your efforts for news releases.

o Wear branded clothing or dress professionally yet comfortably

□ Be approachable!

o Smile and make eye contact with passerbys

o Stand up and/or get out from behind the table (if you’re sitting talking to other volunteers no one will approach you).

o Initiate conversation: ask questions such as “Feeling stressed? Need help coping with stress? Do you have stress in your life?”

o Use giveaways as conversation starters: “Want a free stress magnet? Let me give you some information on how to cope with stress.”

□ Stay on message

o Remember, your role is communicate the value of psychologists: “Here is some information that tells you how psychologists can help you with this health problem, stress, etc.”

o “I thought psychologists were just for crazy people”: “Psychologists help everyday people with any type of behavior change—like managing stressful events, health issues, etc.”

o “Psychologists are the experts in behavior change” “Psychologists are experts in stress management”: Own our expertise!!!

o Hand people you are talking to information: they won’t necessarily take for themselves: don’t be shy—it’s free!

□ Remember ethical principles

o Your role is provide education and information, not to treat participants

o If participants bring up personal issues, this is an opportunity to share how a psychologist might help and provide referral resources

o Always provide a variety of referrals (i.e., not one referral to your own office)

o If you are a psychology student, have a psychologist on hand for consultation in person or by phone. You are not alone!

* * * * * 

Kathleen Ashton, PhD, is a Psychologist in the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. She received her doctorate from The Ohio State University, and she completed specialty training in health psychology at the Cleveland VA Medical Center and Cleveland Clinic.

Dr. Ashton’s clinical and research interests include bariatric surgery evaluation and treatment, binge eating disorder treatment, and behavioral weight management. She has presented extensively on the psychological treatment of obesity and psychological aspects of bariatric surgery, including at the American Society of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery and the International Conference on Eating Disorders.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Out of the Darkness 2014 Columbus Walk

The OPA/COPA walking team, consisting of Dr. Beth McCreary and her daughters, Dr. Catherine Malkin, Dr. Jim Shaw, and Dr. Mary Lewis with her daughter. 

Thanks to all who donated and supported the OPA/COPA walking team for the Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention walk yesterday. It was an amazing day, the weather could not have been more perfect and there was a large crowd. 

Thank  you to Catherine Malkin, Beth McCreary, Jim Shaw, Nicolette Howells, Kathryn Leugers, and the Jeff Shriver family for signing up to walk! The OPA/COPA team raised $1650, which was 82.5% of our goal of $2000.

The entire Columbus walk raised $71,191 out of their $90,000 goal -- with numerous donations yet to be counted. 

It is not too late to still donate! Even a $5 tax-deductible donation could make a difference and save someone's life. Think of how powerful a statement it would be if every OPA psychologist donated $5 to the mission of suicide prevention -- we could easily raise close to $10,000 ourselves. 

You have until the end of the year to contribute to our team and support us even though the walk is over at this link:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

5 Ways To Boost Clients' Life Satisfaction by Using Their Religious Values

by guest blogger, Tara Luchkiw, M.A.

Numerous research studies have demonstrated that there is a positive relationship between religiousness and psychological well-being (Koenig, 2001). People who report having strong religious belief and engaging in frequent religious behaviors often report higher levels of satisfaction with life and lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who report infrequent attendance at worship services, sporadic private prayer practices, and doubts in their beliefs. Several researchers have proposed a number of reasons why religious behavior might be related to greater well-being. Likely explanations include the provision of social support, establishment of meaning in life, engagement in healthy lifestyle choices, promotion of positive religious coping styles, and facilitation of positive affect, all of which are believed to be endorsed by and facilitated through religion (Ellison, Boardman, Williams, & Jackson, 2001; Ellison & Levin, 1998; George, Larson, Koenig, & McCullough, 2000; Seybold & Hill, 2001). Addressing these components in treatment can assist your clients with engaging in value-driven behaviors. 

Many clients look to their religious faith to give them strength and hope as they work through various psychological difficulties. For these clients, integrating their personal beliefs into treatment may lead to better treatment outcomes. For example, in a review of studies examining religion and mental health, depression in patients treated with religious interventions was resolved more quickly than in patients treated with a secular intervention or no intervention in five out of eight clinical trials (Koenig & Larson, 2001). The following are five ways you can engage your clients’ religious values in treatment.

1. Encourage your clients to get more involved in activities at their place of worship or to attend services more regularly. Religious involvement provides access and opportunities to create social networks with people who share similar values, morals, interests, and activities. A large social support network could provide emotional and tangible assistance that may promote better mental health among religious persons. Consider suggesting church-based activities as behavioral activation targets.

2. Encourage your clients to establish a daily practice that includes private prayer or devotional activities. Religious belief provides a view of the world that gives experiences meaning, which yields a sense of purpose, direction in life, and peace of mind for the believer. One study found that participants reported having a greater sense of meaning in life and greater well-being on days that they engaged in religious behaviors (Steger & Frazier, 2005). The findings from this study also suggest that religious individuals feel greater well-being because they derive meaning in life from their religious activities. Consider implementing mindfulness meditations in the form of private religious devotional practices.

3. Focus on client beliefs that prescribe healthy lifestyles. Many religious faiths teach members to respect and care for their bodies. They teach, for example, that the body is the temple of God, or that life and health are gifts that are deserving of gratitude and responsible stewardship. Consider using such client values to guide treatment goals for engaging in increased healthy behaviors.

4. Explore religious coping techniques. Clients may reference their religious beliefs in various ways in attempt to cope with difficult life situations. Some forms of religious coping may be healthy and adaptive, whereas others may be negative and maladaptive. Consider exploring with a client the ways he or she uses religious beliefs to cope, and whether the clients’ current coping patterns are effective.

5. Focus on aspects of religious faith that promote positive emotional experiences, such as hope, gratitude, grace, and forgiveness. Some religious clients may struggle with intense experiences of guilt, shame, or fear of divine punishment. These are areas the client may wish to discuss with a religious leader. In such a case, a referral to a pastor, priest, rabbi, etc. may be appropriate.

Like all other aspects of diversity, religious belief and behavior is an important domain in which psychologists should seek to develop competence. Individuals may express their faith differently from other members in the same religious category or denomination. Thus it is important to discuss each client’s religious values from his or her perspective. It is not necessarily the case that a treatment provider must share the same religious beliefs and values as the client, however it is essential that the provider approach a client’s faith with sensitivity and respect. Doing so with a competent integration of religious activities in treatment has the potential to enhance client well-being and overall treatment outcomes.

* * * * * 
Tara K. Luchkiw, M.A. is a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology program at the University of Mississippi. She is currently working on her dissertation and will be applying for her predoctoral internship in Fall 2014.

Full reference citations available upon request

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mental Health and Aging: Managing Loss

 I'm Blogging for Mental Health. 

Aging can be daunting.  We often experience considerable loss as we get older.  Some losses might be observable, such as a loss of mobility or significantly diminished cognitive functioning.  Some losses may be less obvious, such as the loss of independence one feels when he or she cannot do all of the things that he or she could once do.  While depression is not be a normal part of growing older, the life changes and losses that older adults experience could lead to one feeling depressed.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression is more prevalent in individuals who suffer from other illnesses or who have limited functioning (    

Some symptoms associated with depression are:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • A loss of interest in things that one used to enjoy 
  •  Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Appetite changes or changes in weight
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping 
  •  Fatigue or low energy 
  •  Problems concentrating   
  •  Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation

Notably, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “In 2010, the highest suicide rate (18.6) was among people 45 to 64 years old.  The second highest rate (17.6) occurred in those 85 years and older” ( 

Fortunately, there is effective treatment for depression, and older adults can benefit from this treatment.  Participating in psychotherapy, taking antidepressant medication, or utilizing a combination of both treatment modalities can lead to symptom reduction.  However, older adults might not realize that they are suffering from depression.  Furthermore, they might be opposed to receiving mental health treatment because they think that those who receive such treatment are crazy, and they do not need such treatment.  Therefore, it is important to approach this subject with older adults gently.   

For family members and friends of older adults, recognizing the symptoms of depression is just the first step.  Letting them know that while we, as younger persons cannot truly understand what they are going through because we have not done so, we can appreciate the changes and challenges that one experiences as he or she ages.  It is important to discuss the changes and losses that our older adult relatives and friends have and to validate their feelings.  Explaining that depression is a type of illness like other illnesses that they might be experiencing could lead older adults to be more accepting of mental health treatment.  

Other ways to help with low mood can include:
  • Exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Socialization
  • Active lifestyle
  • Meditation
  • Volunteering

Caring for an older adult can be stressful and lead to depression, if one does not have adequate resources to cope.  Therefore, in addition to paying careful attention to the older adult for which one is caring, it is important for the caregiver to be aware of any symptoms of depression he or she may be experiencing and seek treatment for these symptoms. 

National Institute of Mental Health:

Medline Plus:

The Voice of Women 40+

Guest Blogger: Michele Evans, Ph.D.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

28th Ohio Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference

Dr. David G. Myers, Keynote Speaker
The Ohio Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference (OUPRC) website is available for you to register yourself and your students to attend OUPRC on Saturday, April 26.  All information (including registration and abstract submission) can be found at:

Please make sure that you register each individual SEPARATELY, and that if an abstract is submitted for a presenter, each presenter is also REGISTERED.  There are separate links for each.  (Abstract submission does not qualify as registration).  Faculty in attendance should also register, and all registrants should make a lunch choice so that we can plan accordingly.

Complete information about the schedule for the day, the keynote speaker, and maps to campus can all be found at the registration site.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Walks in Columbus April 2014

Saturday, 4/13 at 12:30pm: National Eating Disorders Awareness Walk (Fred Beekman Park)

Saturday, 4/26 at 9am: Race to Eliminate Sexual Violence (Wolfe Park in Bexley)

Saturday, 4/26 at 8:30am: Walk to Cure Arthritis (Columbus Zoo)