Everyday Doxologist: Emily Bryant

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My name is Emily Bryant, and I am a psychologist. I run my own part-time private practice in the West End. I see clients with a range of presenting problems, but I focus on obsessive-compulsive disorder (aka OCD) and anxiety disorders (including phobias, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder).

For those of you who don’t know much about OCD, it’s made up of obsessions (an obsession is an unwanted intrusive thought or image) and compulsions (a compulsion is what the person does to manage the distress from the obsession). There are a wide range of OCD symptoms. But for the sake of simplicity, I’ll use a germ obsession example. So let’s say I have a fictional client named Chris Traeger. Chris is tormented by intrusive obsessive thoughts about getting sick from germs. So to relieve the anxiety from those thoughts, he engages in compulsions like repeated handwashing, and has an overly rigid exercise and nutrition regime. No matter what “flavor” of OCD a person has, the common theme is that the person has a sense of utter dread about having to do the compulsions. 

OCD is treated with a therapeutic technique called Exposure and Response Prevention. Basically, the person must flood themselves with the obsession so they become desensitized to it, and then they must act in a way that is the opposite of what OCD tells them to do. By doing this, the power of the obsession is diminished over time and the person starts to get their life back again. So for Chris Traeger, who is obsessed with germ contamination, he might practice hanging around small children with runny noses, and then washing his hands incorrectly. As you can imagine, Exposure and Response Prevention treatment is very, very scary for people with OCD. 

Before doing any of the scary exposure work in OCD, I spend a lot of time cultivating motivation and hope. I imagine God has put a flame in everyone’s hearts. The flame is barely flickering for people in the throes of mental illness. I think of myself as a humble servant of sorts—fanning the flame in the person’s heart to build up their courage. God gives us all imaginations—and an anxious person’s imagination is a big part of the problem because it is always imagining worst case scenarios. But I start planting the seeds of using the imagination in a different way—a Godly way. I might ask Chris Traeger, what would your life be like if you didn’t have to spend an hour taking a shower every day? I love how Richard Foster puts it in his book Celebration of Discipline: “Imagination often opens the door to faith.” 

Often times when a person first comes to therapy, they are exhausted from wrestling with life and are despondent and tearful. I am often reminded of the passage in Ezekiel 37 which describes dry bones coming alive. It’s such a privilege and an honor to bear witness to the incredibly brave things people do every day—even if the rest of the world doesn’t think it’s a big deal, I know the Lord is using it to break chains. I love to celebrate with clients when they come in and tell me what big thing they did that week. More than anything, its those moments that are confirming for me that I’m where God wants me to be. At least for right now. 

City Church, I need your prayers, and so does every other therapist out there. It really can be a hard job. It can be a challenge to keep the proper perspective when you hear really hard stories. Sometimes you can’t make sense of a horrible situation, and in those times all I can offer is to sit by someone as they grieve. Many times, that doesn’t feel like enough. The comparison trap is also a real struggle for me. I frequently wonder if another therapist would have done it differently, or if the client would have improved faster with a different therapist. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by a sense of “not-enough-ness.” But coming here each week, to be in this community, serves as a soothing balm to my anxious spirit. Thanks for letting me share today.