Examples Of Operant Conditioning That Can Help Control OCD


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OCD can be life altering, making it difficult to find and keep relationships, wreak havoc on careers, and make it impossible to enjoy life itself. Simple chores and errands can end up complicated and stressful events. Getting a handle on OCD may seem impossible but there is help. Operant conditioning is a very helpful tool when it comes to treating OCD. It can help you get your life back on track and keep it there. Examples of operant conditioning that can help control OCD can be found in psychology journals. Operant conditioning is a treatment used by many therapists and other mental health professionals.

What is OCD?

OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is a psychological condition that causes a person to repeat tasks over and over, sometimes for a set number of times. This is called a ritual. Other symptoms of OCD include repetitive thoughts that are difficult to control. Some common rituals include hand washing, checking locked doors or lights over and over to be sure they are closed and off. Many of the repetitive behaviors include counting and specific movements, or ticks.


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What is Operant Conditioning?

Operant conditioning is a behavioral therapy that uses reward/punishment as an incentive to healthy behaviors and consequences for unwanted behaviors. In psychology, psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists use operant conditioning to help people overcome obsessive-compulsive behaviors. The therapy is based on observing the environmental stimuli that rewards the unwanted behavior and then a plan is created to control OCD behaviors with positive and negative stimuli.


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When a child throws a temper tantrum and they get what they want, they are rewarded for their bad behavior. If a child throws a temper tantrum and they do not get what they want, eventually they will stop throwing temper tantrums. This is the same basis for controlling OCD with operant conditioning.

When the individual ignores their compulsion, a positive reinforcement is created and they realize that ignoring the compulsion is not as bad as it seemed. When the individual engages in their compulsion, a negative reinforcement is created because they do not get what they want, which is to stop the compulsion. A trained therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist that uses behavior modification techniques will know exactly how to help anyone overcome OCD using operant conditioning.

Examples of Operant Conditioning that Can Help Control OCD

Examples of operant conditioning therapies to help control OCD show just how positive and negative rewards can help control OCD. When an individual engages in a compulsive behavior they are rewarded by a reduction in stress. The stress builds until the individual gives in and performs the compulsive behavior then the stress is released. The following are two examples of operant conditioning that can help control OCD:

  • Exposure therapy - Using exposure therapy, a therapist may ask the individual to refrain from their compulsion until the stress dissipates. This is a positive reinforcement for not engaging in the unwanted behavior.

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  • Behavioral therapy - a therapist may ask the individual to replace their compulsive behavior with a different, healthy behavior. This is a positive reinforcement that teaches the individual that there are other methods for coping with their anxiety/stress.

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