Embracing Discomfort as a Step Forward for OCD

6 min read

By Gavin Theriault, Mac E. Lancaster, BS, and Ran D. Anbar, MD

Photo Volcano/Shutterstock

Source: Photo Volcano/Shutterstock

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition in which intrusive thoughts can cause stress that is managed through a ritualistic compulsion (Stein et al., 2019). People with OCD are generally aware that their intrusive thoughts result in counterproductive behaviors, but the strength of their compulsions makes it hard not to engage in them, and these compulsions can turn into habits (Gillan et al., 2014).

Treatment methods for patients with OCD include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, or exposure response prevention (Brock & Hany, 2023). However, for patients with OCD who show resistance to typical treatment methods, hypnotherapy could help (Frederick, 2007).

In this post, we present the first person narrative of a real patient with OCD, who found hypnosis to be useful in his therapy.

Life With OCD

I define OCD as the inability to trust my senses. My mind feeds me unreasonable emotions in response to thoughts. My default is to interpret these thoughts as threatening when in reality, they are far from that.

My OCD is something I’ve yearned to understand more deeply, yet it remains a mystery, concealing itself once I shine a spotlight on it. It feels like a flame that will never burn out, and although this sounds very pessimistic of me, I now see my journey through OCD as one that will allow me to master my body and my mind.

This begs the question, how can you move forward when it feels impossible to take the smallest of steps? Living with OCD can make it very difficult to take the uncomfortable plunge necessary to change one’s mindset.

I have tried exposure response therapy and CBT; they can be helpful to an extent.

I was able to overcome discomfort when I became so sick of where I was that I desperately needed to create change. I knew I had to change eventually, so why put it off? I realized that to tread forward, I would have to embrace even the smallest situations of discomfort rather than fear them.

Hypnosis for OCD

It requires courage to overcome the discomfort I felt, but when I did, I was able to start my hypnosis journey.

The practice of hypnosis proved to be a challenge in its own right. For me—and I am sure for many people with OCD—I find myself avoiding the things that can help me feel better. At first, I struggled to stay consistent with practicing hypnosis because I was aware it had the potential to help change my mindset. My OCD didn’t like the prospective change, so instead of welcoming this new mind-body skill, I felt anxious about it—paralyzed like a deer in headlights.

Most steps you take in your pursuit of healing and wisdom are valid. There is no specific method that works best for everyone, as hypnosis is an individual practice. If you feel like you are not doing it the right way, just remember that as long as you improve, you are probably correct. That realization helped me find control. When I stopped searching for external ways to achieve control, I realized that I’d had control internally the whole time.

Now, for almost a month, I have remained consistent with a daily practice of self-hypnosis. While it may sound small, this step gave me the confidence to understand that I have the power to rewrite my story. With each session of hypnosis, I can feel my growing ability to tap into my potential as a person. I see a whole new realm of possibility.

Your own creativity will guide you into what best suits you. Usually, during my hypnosis, I am guided through the process by visual metaphors. I don’t ask questions. I just accept that the images in my mind are created from a place of my most authentic self; whatever comes up is what was meant to be.

A Self-Hypnosis Session

My most recent session was one of my most profound. I like to start my sessions by visualizing a peaceful setting. In this case, I was sitting outside by a pool. As I brought my awareness to my five senses in this specific setting, I could more easily feel and think the way I would like to.

From there, I let my instincts guide the image. In this specific circumstance, I dropped through the floor into an infinite void of blackness, and I could hear my subconscious echoing aloud, “You’re going deeper and deeper.” I was gone. Like Harry Potter, when he received glimpses of Voldemort, my mind’s eye was taken over by imagery.

The first image was a vivid picture of a bearded man in a cell, zoomed in toward his left eye. The scene quickly vanished into a burning sun beaming over the desert. I recognized that the same bearded man once imprisoned was now roaming the desert floor, across heat waves radiating up from the blistering sand. I could sense with each step that he grew depleted and exhausted, but his state of survival endured.

An eagle screamed from the desert sky, and with it, my awareness drifted back to my reality. I was now watching myself from behind my head, sitting in a chair. In a drone-like fashion, the eagle rapidly approached my face and then slowed down to show me my face, right before it vanished into the horizon ahead of me.

I interpreted the zooming motion as a greater perspective of my life. The bearded man was me, having been in a state of torment for the longest time; a prison. And the desert symbolized a tiresome journey that I must continue to push through. With consistency, I know my ability to handle discomfort will only grow stronger. I am now eager to face change head-on and feel confident that, no matter how difficult the challenge, I will be able to rise to the occasion.


Even though more research is required to better understand the benefits of hypnosis in the management of OCD, this first-hand perspective demonstrates some of its potential as an alternative treatment.

Gavin Theriault is an undergraduate at San Diego State University.

Mac E. Lancaster obtained his undergraduate degree in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience at UC-San Diego. Currently, he shadows Ran D. Anbar, M.D., observing patients and helping to write articles about hypnosis and counseling for publication in professional literature.

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