OCD: The panel discusses Naomi's journey, her struggles around OCD and the journey of discovering peace in herself, her identity, and the truth that OCD doesn't mean she is a 'broken' person.
J: Hey, everybody. Welcome to "Greater".
We're joined on the panel today by Richard Black, founder and director of Mind Health, an organisation focusing on empowering people to transform their world.
Rita Williams, a professional psychiatric nurse who works in the mental health sector.
And pastor Wes Chambers, who brings to the table over 30 years of ministry experience.
And I am Josh Van Berkel, your host. Thank you so much for joining us today. Guys, we've got a fun show planned for today. We are talking about a fairly serious topic, OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder. Before we check out today's story from Naomi, couple of quick questions, first of all, for you, Richard, what is OCD exactly? Where does it come from?
RB: Yeah, OCD I would say is a coping mechanism to deal with some underlying issue, some emotionally-driven issue, an area where a person may be feeling incredibly out of control in one area of their life, be it in their relationships or in their sense of control over germs, and so they will reach for some sort of pattern of behaviour in order to manage what is an emotionally uncomfortable state.
J: All right. At what point does OCD tip from being a quirk of your personality? Like everybody's got those personality quirks. They like their things a certain way. They like their car tidy or they like the bed made just so. That's fine. But at what point does it tip over from a personality quirk to, okay, this is actually an issue that I need intervention for?
RB: Yeah, and that's a great question. I mean, I would say that if the behaviour is moved into a place where it's detrimental to the person or it's detrimental to other people, then they need to get help. Or alternatively, if there's a behaviour or an activity that they genuinely cannot go without, without feeling immobilised by horrible emotions, again, that would be another reason why they need to get it checked out.
JOkay. So there's nothing wrong with wanting to wash your hands for 60 seconds, but if you can't wash your hands for 60 seconds, that shuts you down emotionally, you feel immobilised by that, panicked by that, that would be a warning sign.
RB: It would be an indication that something else is going on.
J: All right. Rita, in your experience as a psychiatric nurse, what are some of the symptoms that you encourage family members or people around others to look out for to identify that maybe there's an OCD issue at play?
RW: Yeah. I think, family, you might see them do certain rituals that are taking up a lot of their time and it's impacting their day to day, things like that. I think, for people like that, they are vulnerable and they're trying to gain some control. If you wanna address them about it, you might be able to gently just say, "Hey, I've noticed you doing these things. What is there about that?" It might open up the conversation with them, because if somebody shares that with you, it's a privilege for them to open up and for you to be a safe person for them to talk to about it is important.
J: All right, so on that, what advice would you have for people that maybe have someone in their world that they know is struggling with OCD? They've had this conversation. How do we support people through that process, through that space?
RW: I think the key word you use there is support. So being available is the first thing. Letting that person know that you will journey through it with them, that they don't have to do it on their own. I think for a lot of people, if they're dealing with these unbearable feelings, that they seek the support to work through those feelings in a safe environment, and so that might be with a professional. So sometimes it might be the first step being with someone to go to an appointment, to talk to a professional that can be quite intimidating for a lot of people. So saying, "Hey, I'll go with you. I'll be present with you." Yeah, gleaning advice also, educating yourself about OCD or any illness. Yeah, educating yourself is really important.
J: Wes, in your 30 plus years of ministry, have you had to deal with people coming into your office with OCD and saying, "Hey, I can't break this cycle. I can't get out of this situation."
WC: Yeah, there's been a number of incidences, especially more in the area where people have where it's actually genuinely harming them. Like I remember a dear person who just could not feel like they could shower enough or wash enough to wash away the sense of deep uncleanness. They would actually ended up damaging their skin. So in that sort of situation, very much, you're working with them, looking for the underlying issue that is actually causing that behaviour. Once you help them identify the underlying issue, then you can begin to process that. Yeah, and it may need a professional person. It may be that it's identified relatively easily and there's a prayer and a journey process. You just work through with that into a place of freedom.
J: Now I would imagine that obviously, you're a professional in the mental health space, you're a pastor, you guys don't work exclusively from each other. There's a lot of overlap. Like you would be referring people to professional help. At times, you would refer people to a Christian pastor. Is that the case?
RB: Well, what I find that works incredibly well within the church area is that I can do the professional stuff. I can do some of the technical stuff that other people can't do, but I see a person, at best, once a week, for one hour, or maybe once a fortnight, and so to have a church community where people are journeying with them and walking the hard walk and even implementing some of the things that I've suggested, that is such a wonderful blessing.
J: All right. Well, why don't we check out Naomi's story today and then we'll bounce back and I'll hear some of your thoughts.
Naomi: I never knew that God could use others around me to help me through my journey, but I believe that He did. He used the people around me to push me through, just to get that gentle push.
My journey with obsessive compulsive disorder started when I was about 14 years old. I found that in high school, it was just little fears in my mind that would swirl around, and I would sort of jump in and grab or think about these things over and over. It was specifically to do with germs. So I would be worried about being dirty and I would be worried about germs, what was on my skin. I sort of began to focus on things that I hadn't really focused on when I was a child.
I sort of noticed that as I got older, the thoughts and the patterns and fears in my mind would get bigger and bigger and stronger and stronger. I began to feel the need to do certain behaviours to release the anxiety that I was feeling. So even after going to the toilet, I would wash my hands for so long. Like I'd wash my hands, my hands would get red and raw. I would wash my arms and I actually also washed all the way up to my shoulders as well. So it was quite big and quite a big part of my life.
Yeah, it was just really quite difficult. It was a huge cycle in my mind that began to sort of spiral out of control, like the more I did it and the older I got. It ended up sort of getting to the point where I had to do all of these behaviours to release myself from the anxiety that was in my mind.
In 2019, I ended up getting referred by my local GP to the Anxiety Disorders Clinic. That was absolutely fantastic for me. I ended up going through some therapy sessions in which we unpacked the biological understandings of obsessive-compulsive disorder. That was so eye-opening for me, learning how God had created my brain and that He had made me whole, there wasn't anything wrong with me, but it was all in my head.
So after the sessions, I was able to actually sort of I found that a lot of the things shifted in my life. It was really cool because I was able to let go of some of the thoughts that I had been thinking, let go of some of the patterns. It was really reassuring for me. I ended up feeling a huge release after that. The behaviours were still present, I think, in parts of my life, but I feel like it was a real relief for me getting help and getting the help that I needed.
I could see that God really helped me through getting that help. I never knew that God could use others around me to help me through my journey, but I believe that He did. He used the people around me and the help and the psychiatrists that knew their stuff to push me through, just get that gentle push.
Knowing that God was with me the whole way in the process reassured me and made me know that God was the one who had opened up the sessions for me. It made me appreciate the beauty of God and how God had designed our brains.
So earlier this year, I ended up going on a retreat with some friends away to Hanmer. I actually joked with God. I said to Him, I was like, "God, I mean, I'm here. I would love it if I could have some prayer for this obsessive compulsive disorder, because it's been such a big part of my life." I thought nothing of it. I was like, nope, He's not gonna do anything. It's not gonna result in anything. I'll just go and we'll see what happens.
Anyways, so this lady comes up to the front and she has this prophetic word. I ended up going up and getting prayer. The lady who I was praying with actually noticed my hands, 'cause we were holding hands and she held onto my hands and she said, "Oh, you, you got red hands." I was like, "Yeah," and I said to her, I was like, "I've got OCD." She asked me if I wanted to get prayer for it just randomly. I was like, "Oh yeah, like I would love prayer for it." At this time I was like, oh my gosh, like God has answered my prayer and I wasn't expecting it. So that was really cool.
We prayed through the process. We prayed through the identity that I had spoken over myself in OCD. The label of OCD as well, we sort of just prayed that off and we broke it off. That was really significant for me because I had always, always hated saying that I had OCD.
Over the past six years, as I've been journeying with this, God has just gently been shaping and touching on my identity and who I am in Him. Jesus has sort of been changing the way I thought about myself and who I am in Him and who I am in God, where there was a root there, the root is now gone, where there was thinking of patterns of behaviour. I was able to change the behaviour patterns.
I am a daughter of God. God has created me whole. He's created me fully. It was so amazing to journey through that through both ways, through getting the help that I needed to have that push to learn more about the ways I was thinking, but also having a really soft, lovely encounter with God, where it was as easy as praying with someone and breaking off the words that I'd spoken over myself.
So it was sort of for me walking through OCD and the journey of OCD, like I am so, so thankful, because I can see God through the whole process, and it's such a beautiful process from start to finish where He's just gently guided and gently, He's given me the things that I needed to journey through and to process through things and to carry on and to learn how to change the behaviours.
I feel like He is bringing out things in me and He's changing and shaping who I am. He's moving the old. He's taking all the old way. and He's helping me to become more of who I am and who He's created me to be rather than the way the world thinks and the way that I think about myself.
J: Fantastic. What a great story. Rita, throwing it to you. What were some of your takeaways from that?
RW: Oh, what an amazing girl. Like an incredible story of recovery, restoration, reparation, all the words that come to mind. Just amazing. Yeah.
J: Richard, I saw you nodding a lot. I thought she was a very articulate young woman. She explained very well what was going on internally and what she was struggling with. I could see you nodding away there. What was resonating with you that she was saying?
RB: Well, her story of the OCD helping her to cope with her anxiety is so very common. Even moving all the way up to her arms as a means to try to cope with the anxiety, but to hear her recognise just the way the brain is created and that she wasn't broken, that in many ways, her brain was doing what her brain is designed to do. It was just doing too much of it. It meant that she got caught. So learning some simple tools about what was going on in her mind and in her brain really helped her. It was just wonderful to see the freedom that was bringing her.
J: All right. Well, you're gonna have to unpack that for us a little bit. What are some of these tools that you're referring to?
RB: Well, one of the things that can happen is when people hear that someone's got OCD, they think, well, it's because you're broken, that something's wrong with you. Whereas in fact, there's nothing wrong. The mind is designed, the brain is designed to look after you, to protect you, to find ways to help ease your pain. So the mind was finding ways to ease her pain and her discomfort. As it discovered things, it then reinforced them. So what you focus on, the brain is gonna make more of. And so it was trying to look after her.
J: All right, how do you stop the brain from doing too much of it?
RB: Well, the good news is that you also get to teach your brain how to respond. Now it will take time as the brain needs to learn new habits in the same way like you're trying to develop and condition new muscles. So as you're able to recognise and learn why I don't need to do this, you can reassure the mind, it's okay, mind. I don't need to do this. Yes, I know it feels like I need to keep washing, but I'm only gonna hurt my hands. I'm not any more clean. I've actually become more clean than I thought. As you do that, your brain begins to normalise and the usual feeling sensations of when you've washed your hands enough will begin to return.
J: We talked earlier before we heard Naomi's story about the fact that OCD is a symptom of an underlying cause, and Naomi herself referred to, she used the word root in there. So that's obviously a part of the process is identifying an uprooting that initial, I guess, cause that's led to the OCD. How do you lead someone, Wes, on a journey to discover what that initial root is?
WC: In the cases I have helped with, it was helping the person get in touch with the conclusions they came to about themselves in a time of intense trauma. I say the word conclusion rather than judgement, because it's easier for people to understand. So in that intense time of trauma, which was a terrible, terrible violation for them, they came to a conclusion about themselves that they were very unclean because this happened, because it was my fault. There was something wrong with me. Once that idea got established in them, then that's how they saw themselves from then on. So of course, the brain, as Richard points out so beautifully, is trying to help you, but it's trying to help you on a basis of false belief or wrong belief. Once you help the person see it, unpack it, take responsibility for it, break their agreement with it, then their soul, their mind is actually able to then, I don't have to do that anymore. That's not me anymore. I'm not unclean. I am not filthy. So it can just remove that judgement basis, that wrong conclusion basis out of their inner belief.
J: I wanna pick up on a line that you used there, break the agreement with it. That word break is actually Naomi used that word a couple of times. She talked about having the label of OCD broken off her. What were you referring to? What is she referring to when she uses that word?
WC: It's a point in the scene where you recognise something as being false. You're divorcing that idea, that belief, that judgement, and then you're moving forward with truth. And then as Richard pointed out, the process of establishing that truth in you can be a journey.
J: Rita, in your role as a psychiatric nurse, you must have dealt with a lot of OCD cases. Is it the sort of thing that people can see restitution from and restoration from like Naomi experienced?
RW: I think the key message, what Naomi was talking about is recovery is possible, that she had a transformation take place in her life. We saw the trouble that she went through to begin with, how hard it was working through these compulsions and things like that. Yet she was able to come out the other side of that. I can't help but see the picture of reparation. It's like, I've restored houses before. When you walk in at first, it seems like a mess. It's like, where do you start? There's so much to do. How are we gonna get to other side of this? But it's like, Naomi, she worked with different people and it's like, even when you're doing a house, you've gotta outsource people for their strengths. She positioned herself to receive that help. She actually made the decision to be like, "Yes, I want to be free of this." That was the fundamental thing to begin with. She actually positioned herself to say, "Yes, I wanna be free of this." Even just with her saying, "I wanna be prayed for. I want that breakthrough." So I think that was amazing as well.
J: Is that a key step along the journey from your perspective, Richard, that someone actually recognises, I don't have to stay like this?
RB: Yeah, absolutely. It's often a huge mind shift for people. I mean, like with what she was saying, that she realised that the label of OCD was being broken off her. Many times when people discover that they are caught in a condition of some description, they internalise it and it becomes their identity. It becomes that I am someone with OCD, I am anxious. I am these things as if that's who they actually are when it's not. When they can discover, this is something I'm struggling with, but this is not who I am. Now they can take the step to go get help because they know it was never who they were in the first place.
J: Okay. So based on Naomi's story, where do you see Jesus fitting into all of that, Richard?
RB: Well, I think with what we heard her say was that she saw Jesus through the whole journey that she was a part of, through leading her to understand that she didn't have to stay that way for going to the clinic for help. And then also when she had that inner prayer of "Lord, I'd like to have prayer." And then someone automatically asking her, can I pray for you? Helping her to ease her pain and ease her suffering, that she sees Jesus actually using different means, different people, different professionals, different average people to actually bring about the relief that she wants. I think Jesus was woven through her entire story.
J: What are your thoughts on that, Wes?
WC: Totally. Also when she talked about the prayer and the breaking of those judgements, the power to break them is actually the power that Jesus has, the authority that Jesus has to actually break the power of those judgements. 'Cause they become a spiritual thing and it's a spiritual power involved. Jesus is Lord of all. So His power was able to actually shift that and bring another dimension of freedom in the whole picture of her journey.
J: Let me ask a question to all three of you. Naomi talked about that it's very clear from her story that she had a relationship with Jesus. She was seeing Jesus in all of these different areas. Does Jesus only help people that believe in Him?
WC: I've seen Jesus help people until they believe in Him.
J: What does that mean?
WC: Well, God's involved in people's journey often a lot earlier than they realise. There comes a point where they somehow something gets illuminated in their mind, actually God is actually working for me. There's a point at which that whole realm opens up and they see that God has been drawing them by the power of His love. So He'd often be working with them a long way before they've ever realised it.
RB: Yeah, His heart is for everyone. One of the things that we see with what He did with Jesus on the cross, it meant He removed all barriers to everyone, because He loves and wants a relationship with everyone, and His heart is for everyone.
J: All right, so if I'm watching right now and I'm going, you know what, the washing hands things or just the obsessive compulsive behaviour, I think I might have that. I start to feel anxiety if I don't get to do what it is that I want to do, what would your advice be to them right now?
RB: If they can, look up for a support group online, look up for where they can get professional services to take a step to understand what's going on for them, so they can find relief from this.
J: So Wes, one of the things that happened for Naomi is that she received prayer. Is that something that you just do automatically? Somebody comes into your office, says, "Wes, I've got an issue here," you just pray for them and every time, all the time.
WC: Not automatically, no. I mean, I love to pray for people and I totally believe in the power of God that's released through prayer, but it's not always appropriate just to pray for people automatically. Sometimes you naturally need to talk with them and get an understanding of the underlying issues, and then you begin a journey. Sooner or later, most of the time, there'll be prayer involved, but it's not just automatic.
J: Why would you not pray for someone? Sometimes people have to, there are some things they need to take responsibility for themselves. The power that will be released in them is when they actually take responsibility for themselves and maybe process some things themselves. The prayer will come sometimes a bit later.
J: As far as the OCD journey goes, Richard, it's not something that you can just identify, pull up at one session and then go home and I'm cured. It's a longer process than that. I think Naomi said six years, she was working through this. Is that more normal than we might think this process that takes a while?
RB: Oh, very much so. It can take a while to practise the new ways of thinking, the new ways of being. When you are wrestling with a condition as large as OCD, and it can feel overwhelming, it's not a matter of thinking I have to somehow find a way to fully be out of it. The thing to focus on is what's the next step, what's the next thing I need to do. Because when you are stuck in a pit, it's not about trying to jump out of it immediately. It's about taking one step at a time and doing what you can do, not what you feel like you can't do.
J: Awesome. Well, I wanna say a big thank you today to Richard Black, Rita Williams and Pastor Wes Chambers. Thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you so much for watching. We trust that you found this episode helpful and encouraging. If it raised any issues with you, or if you've got any questions about what we do here, just check out fantailstudios.com.