Some days, Molly C.’s brain insists she can’t wear her work shirt. She realizes this is irrational; a uniform is required for her job at a hardware store. Nevertheless, she’s addled by an eerie feeling—like, “If you wear this shirt, something bad will happen today.” Usually she can cope, but a few times she couldn’t override it, and she called in sick.
She can’t resist picking up litter whenever she spots it; the other day she cleaned up the entire parking lot of her apartment complex. Each night, she must place her phone in an exact spot on the nightstand in order to fall asleep. What’s more, she’s besieged by troubling thoughts she can’t stop dwelling on. (She asked us not to use her last name in order to protect her privacy.)
Molly is a college student, but her symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder started when she was 14. Since then, a succession of therapists have failed to help her. They’ve told her, “I don't really know how to treat this,” she said. Or, they talked to her about the possible source of her troubles. “It's nice,” she said, “but eventually I’m like, ‘Okay, I can just talk to my sister.’”
Though Molly and other sufferers of obsessive-compulsive disorder exhibit a wide array of symptoms, they share a common plight: difficulty finding the right treatment. In the small Ohio town where Molly lives, there are no psychologists who specialize in exposure and response prevention, the specific kind of therapy she and many others with OCD require in order to break their crippling thought cycles.