Well Being

What is Somatic or Sensorimotor OCD?


Somatic or sensorimotor OCD makes a person pay more attention to bodily sensations and tune their ear to everything that happens in their body. It’s as if the body were a room and had a movement detector installed that’s too sensitive and gets set off from time to time by something as simple as the suspension of dust particles in the air.

This mental and emotional investment oriented toward one’s own body translates into an excessive consumption of energy, with the consequent exhaustion. Now, what’s their motivation for paying so much attention to bodily sensations? It’s the belief that if they don’t concentrate on these organic events, some misfortune will occur.

This is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder that, while not as well-known, is devastating for the patient. Learn more information below.

Patients with sensorimotor OCD experience high psychosocial exhaustion, to the point of not being able to work.

Somatic or sensorimotor OCD: Definition and characteristics

The body is extraordinary in that it’s capable of performing a large number of important functions without the need for conscious attention or control; It allows you to live without having to worry about its basic functions. You don’t have to concentrate on the heart to keep it beating, nor is it necessary to direct digestion.

People with somatic OCD fear that vegetative automaticity will fail and are aware of each organ. These patients also develop sensorimotor hyperawareness. That is, any sensation is processed in a worrying and intense way.

The University of Jyväskylä, in Finland, highlights in a paper that people can’t divert attention from this intrusive and annoying body dominated by multiple sensations and processes.

Therefore, we’re talking about an unusual type of OCD in which an excess of worries, ideas, and distressing emotions appear focused on the body and on each of its processes and sensations.

Read also: Bodily Self-Awareness and Its Link With Suffering

Sensorimotor symptoms in OCD

Patients with this class of OCD develop a large number of sensorimotor hang-ups. In general, it’s common for the person to initiate this condition by placing their attention on swallowing (especially swallowing saliva) or on breathing (inspiration-expiration). This completely disrupts their most basic social functions. Let’s see right away what the most frequent sensorimotor signals are:

  • Itchy skin, chills, or tingling sensations
  • Exaggerated concern about spots or momentary flashes in vision
  • Sensations in the stomach and intestine, such as gas, abdominal pain, or nausea
  • Tinnitus or sounds from the inner ear, with the perception of noises or ringing in the ear
  • Focus on breathing, with obsessive attention on inhalation and exhalation
  • Excessive focus on blinking, counting the number of times they blink, or feeling eye discomfort
  • Obsession with the heartbeat, paying too much attention to the rhythms and sensations of this organ
  • Obsession with joints that creak or make noise when moved and the need to do it, over and over again, in order to relieve anxiety
  • Constant preoccupation with salivation and swallowing, with the sensation of having difficulty swallowing or having excess saliva in the mouth
  • Sensations produced by the hair on the scalp or face, such as feeling that the hairs are out of place or that they have to be combed constantly

The most extreme cases of sensorimotor OCD can lead to psychosis.

A person with sensory OCD may believe that if they don’t focus on their breathing, they’ll have a heart attack.

Thoughts and compulsions associated with sensorimotor OCD

The Brown Medical School, in Providence, Rhode Island, reported in a study that OCD has a gradual onset and a continuous course, and is capable of giving way to a serious psychiatric condition, such as psychosis. Although this disorder falls within a spectrum, it’s possible to reach a truly limiting state.

As noted, somatic OCD has its origin in the obsession with breathing or swallowing. Now, there comes a point where the patient sees their own body as a strange and exhausting element whose purpose is to “drive them crazy.” This is due to the mental load of obsessive thoughts and, also, to that anxiety that manifests itself in the form of compulsion.

  • They think that if they divert the focus from the body it can fail.
  • They become obsessed with counting the number of sensations experienced.
  • They may have a fixation with a specific finger, eye, or ear, or sometimes with several organs at the same time.
  • In order to try to divert attention from these sensorimotor symptoms, they resort to compulsion (repetitive behaviors or thoughts).

You’ll enjoy reading: The Neurobiology of OCD

How to act when it appears?

OCD has a gradual onset and it’s always important to seek specialized help before the obsessions become more intense. This mental condition, although it may have a genetic origin, could also be associated with neurological, traumatic, and social factors.

The therapeutic approach for somatic OCD should focus on reducing sensorimotor obsessions by unlinking reactive anxiety. This sensory hyper-awareness will turn off when the person stops concentrating on each sensation that their body produces. The way to achieve this starts with the strategies described below.

1. Psychoeducation

It’s important to educate the patient on what’s happening to them so that they understand the mechanisms that make up their mental condition. First, they’ll be taught what obsessive-compulsive disorder is and, specifically, this sensorimotor typology.

In addition, the psychologist will guide them to become aware that these bodily sensations aren’t dangerous. We all feel how our body reacts, carries out its processes, and presents its particularities. There’s nothing threatening in those experiences.

Having relatives who’ve suffered from OCD increases the probability that a person will develop it at some point.

2. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy

Exposure and response prevention therapy is the most useful in the treatment of OCD and its subtypes. The journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management highlights its effectiveness in treating this psychological condition.

This approach seeks for the person to learn to live with intrusive thoughts without giving them value and without the need to resort to compulsive behaviors. The method, which is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, allows you to develop a more flexible mind, ceasing to process those sensations as something worrisome.

3. Mindfulness Body Scan Technique

Mindfulness-based body scanning focuses attention on bodily sensations to promote relaxation. It also benefits the understanding of what happens in the body itself. The so-called “body scan” is a very useful therapeutic resource in sensorimotor OCD because it reduces the apprehension of these intracorporal experiences.

A patient in therapy treating their somatic OCD
ERP therapy is effective in the treatment of sensorimotor OCD.

Can somatic OCD be prevented?

Sensorimotor OCD, like the entire spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorder itself, has a genetic component. If some relatives have suffered from this condition, there’s a specific risk that, at some point, you’ll suffer from it. One way to avoid drifting into this form of distorted anxiety would be by contributing to a flexible and rational mental approach.

However, it’s very difficult to prevent this condition 100%. The best suggestion is to consult a professional before the first obsessions or distorted thoughts begin.

The post What is Somatic or Sensorimotor OCD? appeared first on Exploring your mind.


Université d’été 2023 – Lundi 17 juillet 23 – “En thérapie”

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