Talking Metaphysical Contamination OCD with Dr. Steven Phillipson

What is Metaphysical Contamination OCD and how should it be treated?

Key Takeaways:
  • Dr. Steven Phillipson is a licensed clinical psychologist who has specialized in the Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment (CBT) of OCD since 1986.
  • In this video, he defines and discusses Metaphysical Contamination OCD. For more info on Dr. Phillipson, please visit:
  • OCD3 is a web series that brings professional perspectives to the OCD community so sufferers can make healthy decisions and lead better lives.

Read the full transcript below:


1) What is Metaphysical Contamination OCD?

Metaphysical OCD is not one of the more common subsets of OCD but it is marked often by a history of trauma. Persons with metaphysical contamination OCD might have had an event in their lives where they experienced trauma or abuse, and things associated with that history become contaminated.

I had a patient whose stepfather had abused her and all things that were associated with her stepfather, anything that he might have touched, even mail that he might have sent, was imbued with an energy that was a reminder of that abuse. And that created a tremendous amount of distress and desperation to have this person keep themselves separate from anything that evoked that distress signal or reminder of that person.

It can also involve the idea of a person’s stature. So, I worked recently with a young man who believed that someone who was of a lesser social skill or less social stature, he might refer to the person as a loser, that any contact with that person might actually metamorphosize my patient into becoming a loser. And so he was very very fragile about people who would contact that according to him things losers might come into contact with so that he wouldn’t catch the loser disease as it were, the loser bug, and become one himself.

2) What are common symptoms of Metaphysical Contamination OCD?

Common symptoms regarding these metaphysical contamination involves a tremendous amount of avoidance. Avoidance of things that are imbued with the association of the originator of the contamination, a reminder of the trauma, or a reminder of other people who are seen as less desirable.

Persons with metaphysical OCD often become very limited in their mobility. They become very very fragile about places they might go that might evoke memories, or objects they might touch. And so it can become very disabling. And a person can experience a tremendous amount of distress than can become very distracting and preoccupied.

3) How can you help someone suffering from Metaphysical Contamination OCD?

If you identify someone who is engaging in a lot of fragility about things that they touch or people that they come in contact with it would be important for them to become educated about this subset of OCD since it is one of the lesser known types of OCD. So learning about this subset of OCD and seeking help from a qualified expert would be really paramount.

5) How do you treat Metaphysical Contamination OCD?

It would be really easy for this subset of OCD to be mistaken for PTSD, which is post traumatic stress disorder. Often, this type of OCD involves some history of trauma, so in this regard treatment is often specialized in combining exposure therapy with work around the historical trauma to make sure that work is still not playing itself out in the sufferer’s life.

So metaphysical contamination the treatment for that is as classic as any other exposure and response prevention type of treatment, involving, having the person develop a hierarchy and having them gradually cover themselves and their surroundings with reminders or objects or contact with others that bring up and bring on the negative associations.

Recovery for persons with Metaphysical contamination OCD involves a greater degree of freedom to come in contact with items or people that used to evoke a tremendous amount of distress. And so a person would be able to go about in their lives, coming in contact with these associated objects or associated people, and not experience a tremendous distress signal.

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