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Can Crochet Help People With OCD?

Kathryn has been an online writer for over 12 years. Her articles focus on everything from fashion to crafts to pet care.

Crocheting granny squares can be a great way to refocus and deal with OCD.

Crocheting granny squares can be a great way to refocus and deal 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.

  1. In step one, the patient learns to recognize when thoughts are obsessive or compulsive and labeling them as such.
  2. In step two, the patient learns to re-attribute these thoughts to the OCD and not to the value of the repetitive thought itself.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Using 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, 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.”

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.

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AimB on April 25, 2019:

This is a fantastic article. Although I will say, my OCD is at it's worst when I crochet. I used do multiple projects through out the years. Now my need for crochet perfection has me stuck on the same project for the last two years. I can't seem to get passed the starting chain. Then, after almost 2 years of trying to make perfectly sized chains, I realized a foundation chain (fsc) will work better. Now it will probably be another 2 years of trying to perfect just that! Everytime I think I can move past the beginning of the pattern, I see a mistake (an imperfection) that I have to compulsively fix. I know if I don't fix it (which usually takes starting completely over), I will not be happy with the finished product. Mind you, I am not like this anywhere else in my life. This behavior has just recently (past 2 years) manifested itself in my crochet, which used to be something I enjoyed! I really am my worst enemy.

cara on August 02, 2013:

Hi, Very nice article on OCD. I have suffered from it for over a decade and I have my basket of yarn. I think of crocheting as a form of meditation. This is a great hub.

Jitu on August 02, 2013:

I adore these super cute amigurumi cterruaes & thingies. It's an education too. I'm still a crochet newbie and so far all I can do is squares but I've folded a square in half and put a long handle on it to make a cell phone carrier you can wear around your neck for my gran. I sewed a heart on it and embroided 'We love you' on it. It's a Tracfone SVC for seniors with bigger keys and letters on the screen and at least we feel that gran can phone us even if she falls if she's carrying her phone round her neck.Has anyone heard of a little cell phone carrier bag crochet pattern? or where I can find one.

Ruglovermary from Victoria, BC on December 16, 2011:

Thank you for writing this hub. It helped me realize that my mild OCD is a good thing, once in a while. I have been crocheting since i was 11 yrs old and it has been the only hobby that I have kept doing after 25 years. I also cannot keep anything I crochet I have to give it away or else I just take it apart because I see the imperfections in it and want/need it to be perfect and flawless.

Reading that crochet helps with full on OCD is of great comfort to me. Again Thanks for highlighting this as a treatment and a focus for those of us who need it!!

Princess Pitt on December 15, 2011:

I check this because i think i might have OCD.....its funny but, i think i have a depression at 13...still got me now at 20,,, I used to pull out my hair every night..what i thought is dead hair...,, but i think im just being naïve.

Anyway! Voted awesome !

BlissfulWriter on December 14, 2011:

That's very interesting. I plan on reading Jeffrey Schwartz book "Brain Lock".

Diane Ziomek from Alberta, Canada on December 14, 2011:

Congratulations on Hub of the Day! I crochet, and according to my children, have OCD tendencies. I have made countless afghans, hats, scarves, etc over the years; it is good therapy whether a person is OCD or not. My only problem with that is if I don't think it's quite right I will rip it out and start over. Maybe my kids are right...

mljdgulley354 on December 14, 2011:

Congratulations on Hub of the Day. I taught each one of my kids to crochet. My grandmother taught me when I was quite young. I see now it was a way to keep me busy and productive.

formosangirl from Los Angeles on December 14, 2011:

I love crochet, and it is interesting that it can be a tool for OCD patients.

softhard from Kathmandu on December 14, 2011:

Lots of information on OCD. Good writing.

BrightMeadow from a room of one's own on December 14, 2011:

It makes a lot of sense that a hobby like crocheting, with it's repetative tasks would be helpful in calming OCD. I remember a crocheting/knitting craze when I was in school. You would see students in off-times, sitting in the hallway or waiting for class with their hooks bobbing. Great article.

Tammy Winters from Oregon on December 14, 2011:

Great Job on this information.

Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on December 14, 2011:

This is certainly interesting insight. I crochet, but I don't know if I ever considered it therapeutic. I am usually thinking about if I can finish the project in time. Then I lament the fact that I can't even do a Granny stitch. I am a lefty, so there are very few people who can show me and the books for lefties are no good. My mom is a lefty too, but it takes time coordination to learn a new stitch from her. So, I just keep using the simple stitch she taught me before I was a teenager.

ultimateteam11 from Hillsborough, Northern Ireland on December 14, 2011:

i don't get it, how can you write about something so random and get it ranked as hub of the day!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on December 14, 2011:

Hi I am OCD and had to stop crocheting....with my OCDness if I have a project it has to be completed from beginning to end when it s begun. Crocheting drove me crazy because I would have to stay up all nite till I completed the work. I hope that it does work for others. Thanks for sharing this.

Tammy on December 14, 2011:

Congrats on hub of the day! Is there a compultion disorder for those that go overboard with needlecrafts? I know of a lady that mades things out of plastic canvas to the point that it is creepy.

I have to agree with that crocheting helps when one is stressed. I am not the greatest, but found it soothing when I am bugging about something that I can't control, and writing isn't helping. I have one afghan that is so long and big it will fit a king size bed. (I forgot, to take into account that the yarn will stretch when washed. I was worried that it wouldn't be warm enough, so used tight double crochet stitches.)My hubby loves to snuggle in it in the wintertime.

Great hub! Voted up!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 14, 2011:

Congratulations on Hub of the Day! Well-done and well-resesarched article.

I can see how the repetitive activity would be helpful in re-focusing repetitive thoughts as an alternative outlet. I just never thought of it that way before.

I can crochet--some--but I'm not very good at it, and I do get frustrated easily--patterns? Forget it! If I stray from squares, rectangles or "granny squares," I'm in trouble and end up with weird shapes that don't exist in any geometry textbook!

I do know first-hand about the re-focusing part--years back, when my kids were in elementary school, there was a long series of meetings with the school board as they threatened to close the kids' school. My friend and I sat in the back, listening, taking mental notes, and frantically crocheting (she knitting) "ripple" keep us in our seats so we did not rush the board members and knock them backwards out of their chairs yelling, "What's the matter with you morons??!!" The madder we got, the faster our hands went.

Again, great hub--voted up across the board.

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on December 14, 2011:

I could see how this would be helpful to some, but not as much for others. But if it even helps one person, then it's a success! Very interesting hub, thank you for sharing.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 14, 2011:

I enjoy crocheting and it is good to hear that it can also have health benefits for many. This was very interesting. Thanks so much for sharing this info.

And congrats on hub of the day!

arusho on December 14, 2011:

Awesome information. I have anxiety, but my doctor labeled it as OCD. I've dealt with obsessive thoughts, (not repetitive hand washing or something similar) and take medication which helps a lot. But crocheting sounds like something I may need to try. I do sew and enjoy hand sewing. Great hub!

Cara from New York on December 14, 2011:

I have OCD and I have crocheted many a blanket. It really does help. It's almost like meditation. The anxiety is set to the side because I was focused on a project that required my full attention and both hands. Great hub, it was a nice way to bring up a topic that,for some,can be uncomfortable.

RTalloni on December 14, 2011:

I was so caught up in the hub that I forgot to say congrats on Hub of the Day!

Rev. Akins from Tucson, AZ on December 14, 2011:

Really interesting Hub. It makes sense, but it is something that I would never have thought of. I may have to read it over a couple of times to make sure I remember all the different facts and ideas. Thanks! I love Hubs like this.

RTalloni on December 14, 2011:

So interesting. I'll be thinking about this and returning to it again. This is the kind of info that almost everyone could keep in mind and probably use at some point. Anyway, I knew I loved crochet because it is a good thing! :) Thanks for a great post. Voted up.

bizzymom from New York on December 14, 2011:

This is a very interesting hub. I like all types of needlework: knitting, crocheting, cross stitch and needlepoint. It is wonderful that something that I find so joyful could help those with OCD. I find that needlework relieves stress and calms me down. It is also a deterrent to snacking! Thank you for sharing all of this useful information.

Kimberly Schimmel from North Carolina, USA on December 14, 2011:

I knit and find it relieves my mind in many ways. I have bouts of depression and anxiety and the repetitive motions and obvious productivity of knitting/crocheting help me feel better.

sangeeta verma from Ludhiana India on December 14, 2011:

Useful article yes, it is true crocheting and knitting help reduce the stress and keeps one engage but not know that it will also help in OCD.

asmaiftikhar from Pakistan on December 14, 2011:

Excellent effort!

lpanfil from Cleveland, Ohio on November 02, 2011:

Interesting Hub! If I crocheted in place of my food addiction my house would be covered in afgans!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on November 02, 2011:

Positively fascinating. I've got pretty intense OCD and channeling it into things like leisure activities and goals has helped, so I can totally see how crocheting might help. I'll have to look into that!

ThePelton from Martinsburg, WV USA on November 01, 2011:

Working with your hands does a lot toward clearing the debris out of your brain regardless of whether you have OCD or not.

Moira Durano-Abesmo from Sagay, Camiguin, Philippines on October 29, 2011:

It really is relaxing to just crochet when I'm stressed.

Gracie L Sprouse from Virginia on October 28, 2011:

Very much needed information. thanks. For me, crocheting could also become an addiction. Very seldom do you find unfinished crochet projects as you would with other craft projects.

PWalker281 on October 28, 2011:

Wow! Who knew that crochet could be SO therapeutic!

I've been crocheting for a long time, so I know that it relaxes me and helps me sleep at night, but I never connected it with OCD, which I have a mild form of (e.g., nail biter as a kid - I have to cut them now to keep from putting them in my mouth); skin picker at one time; neat-freak (everything in its proper place)). Thanks to this hub, I now see that crochet allows me to refocus all of these obsessive behaviors into, for example, ensuring I have the correct number of stitches in my rows which results in fewer mistakes and a more perfectly executed project. I find the repetitive nature of inserting the hook, yarning over, and pulling through extremely soothing.

Thanks so much for sharing this information. Rated up and awesome. I'm sharing this hub with my crochet network, too.