Can Crochet Help People with OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a serious mental health condition that can cause many problems for the people that suffer from it. It is a form of extreme anxiety that manifests itself in obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. It certainly requires diagnosis and treatment by a medical professional. But in addition to that, people with this condition may be able to use the craft of crochet to assist them in managing their symptoms.
The Four Steps of OCD Treatment
Crochet is something that comes into play in the third step of OCD treatment as outlined by Jeffrey Schwartz. Schwartz is an author and Associate Research Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine who has made major breakthroughs in the understanding and treatment of OCD including the development of a four-step model of treatment. The four steps are to re-label, re-attribute, re-focus and re-value to improve OCD.
In step one the patient learns to recognize when thoughts are obsessive or compulsive and labeling them as such. In step two the patient learns to re-attribute these thoughts to the OCD and not to the value of the repetitive thought itself. It is in step three where crochet can come into play because in this step the goal is to re-focus, mindfully choosing to ignore the obsessive compulsive thought and instead to engage in some other behavior. Crochet can be that behavior. This refocusing on constructive behavior is considered by some to be the most important step in self-treatment of OCD. This helps you get to step 4 in which you can re-value the thought as not having the value it felt like it did before and therefore avoid the OCD behaviors.
Crochet as a Refocusing Tool
Crochet can be particularly useful as a re-focusing tool for people who typically engage in compulsive behaviors that require the use of their hands. Compulsive hand washing, nail biting, dermatillomania (skin-picking) and trichotillomania (the pulling out of one’s own hair) are examples of behaviors that can be successfully reduced if the person is able to keep their hands busy with crochet.
One question that came to mind for me was whether the very symptoms of OCD would make it difficult for someone to complete crochet projects. After all, if you are obsessively counting or checking for errors, etc., then maybe it would be unlikely that crochet could benefit you in this particular way. However, I found an answer to this in an article about the health benefits of knitting that I think would also apply to crochet.
Gail of the blog Straight Jacket Knitting shared in an interview with Compassionate Knitter:
“As a self-taught knitter, I found that my OCD often worked to my advantage because my obsessive tendencies made me keep working through a project, when others would have thrown the knitting down in frustration. Despite having ADHD and Tourettes, both of which make it extremely difficult to focus, knitting helped calm the tics and allowed me some peace.” source
Crochet for Other Addictions
OCD is an extreme form of addiction and the same tools of distraction that can help with this condition can be even more helpful in terms of other types of addiction. In his book 7 Tools to Beat Addiction, Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D. identifies your individual resources as one of the seven tools required to overcome an addiction. There are many different types of resources that a person may rely on including relationships with others, work skills and accomplishments and more. One key resource he cites is “leisure activities” meaning both “hobbies and interests” and “ways of relaxing”. Crochet certainly falls into this category and therefore can be construed as a valuable resource for some people battling addiction. In this chapter he also cites the importance of recognizing and valuing your own strengths as an internal resource. If you know that you are good at certain things then you can at least imagine that you can be good at ceasing your addiction. If you feel like you are good at crochet then it can benefit you in this sense as well.
In this chapter, Peele also refers to the work of psychologist Saul Shiffman who looked at the techniques that cigarette addicts could successfully use to resist the urge to start smoking again. Three of the five behavioral techniques that he named are relaxation, selecting a distracting activity and selecting a delaying activity. These are all things that crochet can be used for. It may relax you so that you don’t feel the need to smoke or it may distract you entirely from the urge to smoke (or engage in other addictive behavior). Alternatively you may tell yourself that you are going to finish this many rows or that project before you go smoke, delaying the addictive behavior as a means of cutting back and eventually ceasing the behavior.
Identifying and using your resources is only one of the seven tools that Peele cites to beat addiction. A second important tool that relates to crochet is tool number seven, which is to pursue and accomplish goals. The idea here is that you set goals that are important to you so that you can have a bigger reason for quitting your addiction than just “it’s bad for me” or “everyone says I need to quit”. Having a bigger goal will help you to be able to actually quit the addiction instead of falling back into it after just a short period of time.
One of the types of goals that Peele names is “personal goals”, which he defines as goals “you pursue to make yourself a better person, to improve and advance your life”. One huge goal that comes to mind for me in relation crochet is to express myself in positive and creative ways. If you are struggling with an addiction, you can ask yourself if taking an action to feed that addiction (such as going to the bar) will help you to express yourself in positive and creative ways. It will not, whereas your crochet work can, and therefore perhaps you can convince yourself to skip the bar and stay home to crochet (or go to a craft group instead of the bar!)
Peele also points out that it is valuable to include goals that contribute to the community around you. He explains that when you contribute to your community, it therapeutically strengthens you as an individual because you need to be more responsible thanks to your interactions with others. Crochet can clearly be a community activity, whether you want to set a goal of teaching crochet to local schoolchildren or simply volunteer your time to crochet squares for charity. The more your goals connect you to the community, the more likely it is that you will beat your addiction. So, whether you are suffering from OCD or some other type of addiction, crochet may be a tool worth checking out.