Ali Mattu, Ph.D. Presented on
“Howard Hughes to Harry Power: How Stories Heal OCD”
by Rachel Strohl, Psy.D.
On Monday, March 9, 2015, Ali Mattu, Ph.D. presented at the quarterly meeting of OCD New Jersey (OCDNJ). Dr. Mattu is a New York licensed psychologist at the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CUCARD). Dr. Mattu specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents, and adults with anxiety disorders and body- focused repetitive behaviors. Throughout his career, Dr. Mattu has served in a variety of leadership roles in psychology. He is currently a member of the American Psychological Association’s Policy and Planning Board, is on the Executive Board of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, and is part of the Translational Issues in Psychological Science’s Editorial Board.
Dr. Mattu began by explaining that the stories we are passionate about will influence how we perceive reality. He shared a personal story about an experience on an internship rotation during his graduate training. Dr. Mattu chose a difficult rotation and remembered feeling as if he wanted to avoid it and switch rotations. Instead, he used his training as an anxiety specialist and decided to stay with the rotation and “face my fears.”
He stated that stories influence how we see the world in the following ways: 1) stories have a dramatic impact on memories, e.g., the memories that do not fit get pushed out, 2) redemptive stories can create hope, 3) “being the central actor in your story” can lead to gains in therapy, and 4) “skipping to the end” of a story can limit growth in therapy.
We do not just tell stories, but stories tell us… they shape our thoughts, memories, and change how we live our lives. He related storytelling to OCD by stating, “we have great OCD treatments but,” 1) people still do not understand OCD, 2) OCD can lead to isolation and guilt, 3) good treatment is hard to find, and 4) the treatment is hard, but it works, specifically exposure and response prevention (ERP).
Dr. Mattu reported that storytelling is how we can solve the problems above by 1) using stories to build awareness and challenge stigma. He discussed myths around OCD, such as people with OCD are just neat freaks, and emphasized the importance of awareness. Hollywood tries to portray OCD in movies and tv, but it “is never going to capture the diversity of OCD.” Dr. Mattu played clips of documentaries powerfully portraying OCD, and discussed mental health organizations such as The Mighty and Bring Change to
Storytelling 2) validates strong emotions and ignites social support. The stories can help you understand your feelings make sense given the situation. Also that you are not alone, other people experience your thoughts and feelings, and you are not going crazy.
Storytelling 3) demystifies cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and ERP. ERP is “often hard to explain,” but a person with OCD will start on a hierarchy, work up slowly, partner with his/ her therapist, and through exposure, face what you fear most. The best stories come after the exposure, with the theme “I can live again.”
Storytelling 4) increases the impact of treatment when they resonate with the stories of your life. Dr. Mattu used stories from Harry Potter throughout the presentation because the characters are brave in facing danger. They feel the fear, experience anxiety, and go through the situation they are afraid of… which is similar to ERP. He recommends learning about the kid or adult with OCD, finding what they love, and then relating that to the stories used in CBT. For example, he will utilize in treatment the song “Shake it off,” by Taylor Swift or the song “Let it go,” in Frozen.
DVDs of this presentation are available for purchase by emailing email@example.com. All DVD titles from previous meetings are available on our website, www.ocdnj.org.
Dr. Rachel Strohl is a licensed psychologist at Stress and Anxiety Services of NJ in East Brunswick. She is on the Board of Directors at OCD New Jersey. She may be reached at 732-390-6694.