“Obsessed” with Treating OCD

DoronnSHANA DORONN, PsyD ’02, doesn't think twice about asking her patients to put a knife to her neck. "For me, it's another day in the office," she said. "I've done this plenty of times before."

As a therapist who treats patients with obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD), Doronn knows that the fear of harming someone—intentionally or accidentally—haunts many OCD patients. So, she has patients with that fear confront it head on, handing them a knife and asking them to hold it to her neck.

Viewers of "Obsessed," a new documentary series on A&E television, watched that very scene play out as Doronn worked with a woman afraid she might kill someone. Doronn, or Dr. Shana as her patients called her, was one of five therapists featured on the show, each treating five patients over the course of 12 weeks.

The series aired over the summer, giving viewers a glimpse into the struggles of dealing with OCD and how therapists like Doronn work with patients to treat the disorder. Doronn uses a technique known as exposure and response prevention, an approach that requires patients to do something they fear (touching a door knob and then rubbing their bare hands together, for example) and then not respond as they normally would (such as compulsively washing their hands after touching the door knob).

The idea, said Doronn, is to make patients feel their anxiety increase and, most importantly, eventually subside. As they work through one fear, they tackle increasingly larger fears. It's an approach she not only uses on "Obsessed," but also in her private practice outside Chicago. The show's producer invited Doronn to try out shortly after she moved to the Windy City from Southern California.

Doronn was initially hesitant—being on the show would mean flying to Los Angeles weekly for tapings. She's glad she took the chance; not because of the attention it has brought her, but rather because of the attention it has brought to the disorder. Because of the show, Doronn has received hundreds of emails from people across the country asking for help in treating their OCD. She responds to each one, directing them to the right resources and, in several cases, flying to Canada to offer treatment.

"People have seen the show and are writing me desperate for help," Doronn said. "It brings me to tears, it just brings me to tears. If there's a message to be had from this diagnosis, it's that there's hope and help out there."

Thanks to the show—and Doronn's role on it—more people suffering from OCD now know that.