HOCD does exist (even if it’s named wrong)
OCD is in the news again, this time on BuzzFeed. The website published an article yesterday that seems to out an OCD expert for mishandling gay clients. What the article really did is expose the lack of understanding there is about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, even by supposed mental health professionals.
“Charles Linden, a high profile anxiety expert, has been reported to two professional bodies after BuzzFeed News found him offering to treat people who worry they might be gay — by telling them they’re not,” begins the article World’s leading anxiety expert offers treatment for people who worry that they’re gay.
Right off the bat the article sets up for the reader that Linden is offering to fix being gay in some way. The initial premise of the article is completely misleading and underlines a lack of information about OCD.
BuzzFeed states that Linden “…claims on his website to be able to help people ‘recover’ from what he calls ‘Homosexual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’ or ‘HOCD'”.
Linden is a controversial subject in the OCD world. He claims a very high success rate for his brand of therapy for OCD and other anxiety disorders. He has been accused of puffing up his success rate, ignoring claims from sufferers who say they were not helped by his therapy and claiming affiliations with some organizations where none exist. This has put him in a spotlight where he is routinely criticized for statements and claims he makes.
That said, someone who is perceived to be wrong a lot isn’t necessarily wrong every time.
BuzzFeed continues with a somewhat misleading statement: “HOCD — also called ‘gay OCD’– is not recognized by the medical or psychiatric professions…”
Well educated mental health professionals and established OCD organizations know all too well what HOCD is. Psychologist Stephen Seay PhD talks about HOCD here. The National Institutes of Health knows about HOCD. So does UK charity OCD-UK. Hundreds of links to websites speaking of HOCD abound on the web.
It is true that HOCD is basically a meaningless acronym. The acroynm itself won’t be found in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (the bible of psychiatric conditions) but anyone with experience with OCD knows what it is. For some reason BuzzFeed seemingly didn’t bother to check out what HOCD is.
HOCD is simply where a person with OCD has intrusive thoughts about being gay. It is a subtype of OCD that is widely recognized. The most used scale for determing types and severity of OCD is the YBOCS (Yale Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale). In its extensive list of obsessions, the YBOCS lists under the category Sexual Obsessions, “Content involves homosexuality.” YBOCS gives examples as, “Worries like Am I a homosexual? or What if I suddenly become gay” when there is no basis for these thoughts”.
The creators of YBOCS knew all about HOCD when they wrote their scale, which is used the world over by therapists and OCD sufferers to help qualify and quantify OCD.
The BuzzFeed article continues by slamming Linden for displaying dubious endoresements by two psychiatric entities, which may or may not be warranted.
“The term ‘Homosexual OCD’ is simply conversion therapy under another guise and something we strongly condemn as damaging,” states Prof. Elizabeth Peel, chair of the British Psychologial Society’s (BPS) Psychology of Sexualiaties Section, according to the article.
Prof. Peel doesn’t know what she is talking about. There really are people with sexual orientation obsessions. I was one and they started when I was about 12-13 years of age. I have met numerous people on online forums who suffer from the same types of obsessions. As noted above, there are mental health professionals and OCD organizations that know all about HOCD. Peel claims that Linden’s claims are nothing more than conversion therapy — an attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation. That is simply not true.
A mental health professional who has a good grasp of OCD can help a person determine if they are coming to grips with their sexuality or are having intrusive thoughts about their sexual orientation. There is a difference and a professional should be able to figure it out.
I’m not going to go into Linden’s claims, highlighted in the BuzzFeed article, that Linden’s therapy can lead to a swift recovery within minutes. I find those types of claims highly suspect.
The BuzzFeed article states, “Dominic Davies, founder and director of Pink Therapy, a prominent psychotherapy service for LGBT people, told BuzzFeed News: “I am concerned that Linden thinks he can offer a rapid diagnosis of someone’s troubling mental heath concerns via a checklist of symptoms which could indeed apply to confused gay people, who would then get drawn into his organisation or buy his home treatment DVD and not get the skilled help they need.””
Davies is likely correct. People who are confused about their sexual orientation should not be induced to buy into a therapy that isn’t designed for them. However Davies goes on to say that she is concerned with “Linden’s simplistic view of homosexuality.” I don’t see anywhere where Linden is claiming anything about homosexuality or that he claims he can ‘cure’ it. This isn’t about homosexuality. It’s about a recognized and well-known subtype of OCD where people get intrusive thoughts about their sexual orientation.
Prof. Dinesh Bhuga, a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, is quoted by BuzzFeed as saying, “HOCD is not a recognized condition.” That is splitting hairs. That is like saying contamination OCD, which is what the OCD world calls collectively all the different types of OCD involving contamination, is not a recognized condition. OCD is the recognized condition but OCD has many, many subtypes that, on their own, are recognized by professionals with a clue.
Another Royal College of Psychiatrists spokesperson, Dr. Paul Blenkiron, states in the BuzzFeed article, “I have not heard of anyone with OCD presenting as having an obsessive fear of being gay.” Well get out in the real world, doctor. Hang out at an OCD forum for a week and talk to the many, many people with sexual orientation obsessions. They are real people and they suffer. And they’re also treated the world over. The fact that you haven’t heard of them speaks to your lack of knowledge.
Linden is quoted as saying, “You only have HOCD if you’re heterosexual.” Therein lies the big problem with the HOCD moniker. The H stands for homosexual but does that mean this affliction only affects heterosexuals? Hardly.
Identified homosexuals can also have intrusive thoughts about their sexual orientation. I have met a handful of such people online, each one identifying as lesbian or gay and each one receiving intrusive thoughts that they might be straight. And that’s why HOCD is wronly named. The category should be renamed, even in the YBOCS, to obsessions about sexual orientation.
Peel, who wrongly accused Linden of recommending conversion therapy, screws things up further later in the BuzzFeed article. She states, “Perpetuating the notion that thoughts about, and desires for, people of the same or different genders, or both, is a disorder requiring treatment is harmful.” Peel is missing the point. There is no desire from people with sexual orientation obsessions. A straight man with intrusive thoughts about being gay does not desire sex with men. He questions why he is getting the thoughts in the first place.
Linden further confuses the issue when he says, “Gay men don’t get HOCD where they question their sexuality, because they know they’re gay.” Here’s a so-called expert on OCD stating that gay men don’t get HOCD. Well clearly a gay man is not going to get intrusive thoughts about being gay, but he could get intrusive thoughts about being straight. Homosexuals are just as much at risk of having sexual orientation obsessions as heterosexuals.
Psychotherapist Matthew Stinson states, “Using a term like HOCD can cause further damage to people – if a young person comes along feeling uncertain about their sexuality, it may lead that person to believe they have a mental illness when they do not. It could be very damaging in the long term.” True enough and that’s why people should seek qualified help so it can be determined if a person is dealing with sexual orientation confusion or sexual orientation obsessions within the context of OCD. The problem seems to be that some so-called professionals don’t know there’s a difference.
It is a sad state of affairs that supposed mental health professionals, in this day and age, do not have a good grasp of what OCD is. In no way am I endorsing Charles Linden or his ‘method’ for dealing with anxiety or OCD, but the entire BuzzFeed article presupposed that Linden was somehow trying to fix gay clients when that is clearly not his intention.
Sexual orientation obsessions within the context of OCD do exist. They can be ferreted out by a mental health professional who has a good grasp what OCD is about.