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Reframing and Rituals

Reframing Thoughts Can Be an OCD Ritual

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-respected and highly utilized therapeutic approach within the mental health field. CBT principles are based on a strong foundation that highlights the interconnectedness between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It helps us see that how we think about ourselves, others, and situations impacts how we feel and what we do. The relationship between thoughts-feelings-behaviors can be visualized as a triangle versus a straight line. The triangle helps us see that all three components impact one another.




Reframing is a core CBT technique to help us with difficult thoughts. The goal of reframing within CBT is to help us see a situation from a different perspective – typically a perspective that is “rational,” that is, based on reason and logic. 

Reframing can be very helpful for people in many different types of situations. However, if you have OCD, reframing your thoughts is unhelpful and actually makes the OCD worse in the long run because it becomes a ritual. Reframing may make you feel better momentarily, but that sense of relief is temporary. It makes people fall into the OCD cycle of worry: 1) Reframe; worry comes back 2) Reframe; worry comes back again 3) Reframe; and this cycle just keeps repeating over and over again. 

Ultimately, reframing does not work with OCD because OCD is based on doubt, and reframing is based on reason and logic. No amount of reasoning and logic can cancel out doubt in OCD – if it did, then people wouldn’t get stuck ruminating about the same worries over and over again! It makes sense to think that problem-solving strategies can stop OCD because we are often taught to problem-solve challenging situations by thinking through the different situations and coming up with rational solutions. Problem-solving using reasoning and logic is a highly valuable skill set – just not with OCD! Combatting the doubt in OCD with reason and logic will always be a losing battle. As soon as you find a logical or reasonable answer to your worries, the doubt creeps back in and makes you anxious about the same thing all over again.


Another problem is that reframing OCD worries using logic and reason leads to rumination (i.e., intentionally giving mental time and energy trying to “solve the problem”). For more information regarding rumination, please see the Educational Guide, The Non-Rumination Approach for OCD Recovery. Ruminating about and reframing the worries to view them from a “rational” perspective unintentionally serves as reassurance – these are all rituals that make the OCD stronger. Remember, a critical part of OCD treatment is reducing and resisting rituals.

Other principles of CBT for OCD are commonly used and can be very helpful; however, it is important to understand that reframing OCD worries using logic and reason to overcome one’s worries does not work and is counter-therapeutic. 

We hope this introductory Guide has helped you gain a better understanding of the reframing technique and why it often unintentionally serves as a compulsion when being used to reframe OCD worries.

If you would like to learn more about reframing, in the associated comprehensive Educational Guides we go into the following:

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