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International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) Holds 26th Annual OCD Conference (2019) in Austin, Texas, July 19-21; Over 2,000 Attend from 49 States and 24 Countries

The 26th Annual OCD Conference was held in Austin, Texas, July 19-21. Organized by the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), headquartered in Boston, the Conference informs and empowers members of the obsessive compulsive disorder community by bringing together health professionals, researchers, individuals with OCD, and their loved ones, with the goal of educating all attendees about the latest treatments, research, and practice in OCD and related disorders. This year, attendance broke 2,000, with attendees coming from 49 states and 24 different countries to learn more about how to help friends, families, or patients who are struggling with this troubling and variable problem. A warm welcoming statement was made to meeting attendees by Susan Boaz, President, Board of Directors, IOCDF. “One of the most unique things about the Conference is the experience of having so many diverse groups mingling, all of whom help each other find hope and support for OCD. Our researchers have the opportunity to share their latest discoveries about the causes and treatment of OCD and they value the opportunity to hear from the front lines about what is really occurring in the community of OCD sufferers. Parents meet each other and form lifetime friendships. Kids and adults with OCD learn that they are not alone. Everyone is willing to answer questions, provide information, make friends, and share hope. Our wish is that you experience kindness and inspiration at our Annual OCD Conference.” The IOCDF’s Annual OCD Conference is the only international event focused solely on serving the OCD and related disorders community. The theme of “Life After Treatment” ran throughout this year’s Conference and sought to help attendees answer questions on re-finding their identity, navigating a post-treatment world, and maintaining recovery gains.

Conference attendees had access to more than 200 presentations, workshops, evening activities, and support groups. Presenters included some of the most experienced and knowledgeable clinicians and researchers in the field, as well as individuals with OCD and family members who graciously shared their stories.


This year, the IOCDF efforts included organizing a unique and exciting experience for young people of all ages. The organization arranged individual programming for three different age groups: elementary age kids, middle schoolers, and high-school-aged teens.

Some of the programs for kids were “Using Your Super Sensory Powers to Change Your Behavior and Mood,” “Learning to Boss Back Your OCD with Sharing, Drawing, and Acting!” and “When Pesky Obsessions Show Up: Stop, Choose, and Shake It Off!”

For middle schoolers, sessions included “Cards Against OCD: A Fun Interactive Workshop for Parents and Kids” and “Teen Taboo Talk: An Interactive Workshop About Disclosure of Intrusive Thoughts.”

For teens, programs included “Study and Organizational Skills for Students with OCD,” “Stuff That’s Loud: Unspiralling from OCD,” and #realocd: Let’s Talk About Social Media.”


Thursday, the day preceding the official opening of the Conference, featured an all-day, Pre-Conference IOCDF Research Symposium, which provided a forum for high-level discussion of research topics among professionals who specialize in the study of OCD and related disorders.

Now in its fourth year, the Symposium is intended as a complement to the “Research to Clinical Practice” track for researchers who attend the regular Annual OCD Conference. The Symposium brings researchers together from around the world to intimately discuss their findings with other experts, and fosters increased collaboration and networking across diverse research groups.


On late Friday afternoon of the regular Conference, Mady Hornig, MD, of Columbia University gave the professional plenary address entitled “Demystifying the Gut-Immune-Brain Axis in OCD and Related Disorders,” to the wide range of Conference attendees. Dr. Hornig is Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia and she is internationally recognized for her animal work and clinical research in human cohorts on the role of microbial, metabolic, immune, and toxicological factors in brain disorders—including autism, schizophrenia, ADHD, OCD, mood disorders, and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.
At the Austin Conference, Dr. Hornig discussed the gut-immune-brain axis in OCD and related disorders, including how dysfunction in this axis may contribute to adverse brain outcomes, the impact of altered gut microbiome on the immune system and mental health, and the current state of understanding on interventions.

On Saturday, the Conference keynote address was delivered by Mara Wilson, who is a writer and former child actress known for her roles in Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire. Mara’s keynote address covered her personal experience with OCD, as well as her recent move into advocacy. She took the audience through her journey from being an anxious child; to her compulsions becoming a larger issue at age eight, when her mother became ill; to her discovering a diagnosis and experiencing the ups and downs of recovery. She also discussed her decision to be open with her diagnosis and to use her platform to advocate for others struggling with a mental illness. Mara said that she viewed the opportunity to speak at the Conference as "an honor and a privilege."


Among the many illuminating presentations given at the Conference were the following:

--“Dissemination of the Bergen 4-Day Treatment (B4DT): Bringing It to the US” (see more on this treatment at end of this article)
--“Back to the Future” Again! Family Accommodation from Research to Practice, Where Are We After 32 Years?”
--“Sex Education: The OCD Version”
--"Our Turn: OCD Through the Eyes of Siblings”
--“Making Sense of Sensory Symptoms in OCD: An Interdisciplinary Evidence-Based Approach”
--“PANS/PANDAS: Understanding the Current Diagnostic and Clinical Recommendations”
--“OCD and the Changing Face of Media: An Inside Look at OCD in the News and on Social Media”
--“A Prescription for Success: Helping Children with OCD and Their Families Navigate Medication and Psychotherapy Together”
--“Making Sense of Sensory Symptoms in OCD: An Interdisciplinary Evidence-Based Approach”
--“The Perfect Problem: The Overlap Between Perfectionistic Tendencies and OCD—And What to Do About It”
--“Virtual ERP: The Nuts & Bolts of Telehealth Practices for OCD”
--“Respecting Religiosity: Treating Scrupulosity and Other Taboo Obsessions with a Values-Oriented Approach”
--“Athletes and OCD”
--“OCD or Not OCD? That Is the Question—Distinguishing OCD from Common Misdiagnoses and Discussing Treatment Differences”
--"College Confidential OCD Edition: Diverse Perspectives on Transitioning to College with OCD”
--“Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for OCD: An Overview and Update for Consumers and Families”
--“OCD Around the World: Commonalities and Unique International Perspectives”


The multiple well-attended workshops included the following:

--“Improv for Anxiety” (at Austin’s Hideout Theatre)
--“Autism/OCD Anxiety Spectrum”
--“The Poop Group”
--“Hoarding: The Basics”
--“Taking Your Skills in ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) to the Next Level”
--“Loving Detachment and Non-Violent Resistance: New Family-Based Approaches for Managing OCD”
--"Exposure Therapy for BDD: An Interactive Workshop for Patients, Families, and Clinicians”
--“New Developments in Exposure Therapy for OCD: Understanding and Implementing an Inhibitory Learning Approach”
--“Writing & Journalism Workshop for Teens with OCD”
--“How to Make Friends and Influence People: Your Roadmap to Becoming an Advocacy Superstar”
--“Life After Treatment: Navigating Hidden Traps That Can Sabotage Your Recovery”
--“It’s All in the Family: Using Family-Based Motivational Strategies and Behavioral Contracting to Treat OCD”


A number of different support group meetings were held throughout the Conference. These included the following:

--“All-Inclusive Women’s Support Group”
--“Support Group for Adults with OCD”
--“Sibling Support Group for Youth”
--“Man Up: Real Men Talk About Their Feelings”
--“LGBTG Support Group”
--“Skin Picking Disorder Support Group”
--“Support Group for Individuals with OCD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and Their Family Members”
--“Support Group for Aging People with OCD”
--“Peer Support Group for People Who Have Too Much Stuff”
--“Alphabet City…Dealing with OCD and ADD/ADHD”


Research posters were on display Saturday evening and researchers were present to answer questions and discuss their work. Among the 40 selected posters were the following:

--“Physiological Markers of OCD: Examining Heart Rate Variability As an Indicator”
--“The Association Between OCD Symptoms, Response Inhibition, and Impulsivity”
--"Examining Canada’s First Intensive OCD Treatment Program: Impact on Symptoms, Functionality, and Quality of Life”
--“Repetitive Negative Thinking During Exposure: Assessment and Relationship to OCD Severity”
--“Temporal Precedence of the Change in Obsessive Compulsive Symptoms and Change in Symptoms During Exposure and Response Prevention for Pediatric OCDs”
--“OCD Challenge—An Online Self-Help ERP Web Site for OCD”
--“A Preliminary Evaluation of Clinician Perspectives on Hoarding Disorder”


Five major awards were presented at the Conference.


The Patricia Perkins IOCDF Service Award was given to Reid Wilson, PhD, who has devoted his entire career to advocating and innovating within the field of self-help. By 1990, he had built American Airlines’ national fearful flier program, among many other major accomplishments. Dr. Wilson has been a fixture at the Annual OCD Conference for years, running some of the highest-attendance workshops. Of particular note, is that this is the tenth year that he has conducted intensive treatment and training groups at the Conference.


Isaac Marks, MD, who is considered a pioneer in the field of exposure therapy, was honored with the IOCDF Outstanding Career Achievement Award. Among numerous career achievements and honors, Dr. Marks has served as Chairman of the British Association for Behavioral Psychotherapy, been named Salmon Lecturer & Medalist at the NY Academy of Sciences, and been recognized as a Sackler scholar at the Advanced Studies Institute at Tel Aviv Institute

The IOCDF Illumination Award was presented to Lila Bailey, a journalist and model from the UK. Bailey struggled with severe OCD as a child before finally being diagnosed at age 16. She kept her condition private until 2014, when she became a passionate spokesperson for the OCD community. A funny and original memoir by Bailey, “Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought,” was published in the US in April 2018. Bailey also hosts #OCDTalkHour on Twitter every Tuesday at 7 pm GMT. As Bailey says, “We need to end the misconceptions; we need to end the shame. People are literally losing years of their lives to this thing.”


The IOCDF Hero Award was presented to Thomas Smalley, a psychology major and men’s basketball team manager at Siena College in New York. Smalley was diagnosed with OCD at 15 and has since become an advocate for raising awareness and reducing stigma, becoming heavily involved with OCD Connecticut, serving as a leader for the young adults at several Annual OCD Conferences, and speaking at schools in Connecticut and New York. He has also created two documentaries of his experiences with OCD on his YouTube channel “Struggle Into Strength.” In February 2018, Smalley gained media attention when he filed a complaint that the head basketball coach at Siena was verbally abusing him for having OCD; the coach later resigned. Smalley took the opportunity to raise awareness about OCD and related disorders. As one of Smalley’s nominators wrote, “He has turned this past adversity into triumph, turning ‘Struggle Into Strength’ from a film to a movement.”


The inaugural IOCDF Youth Hero Award was presented to Alyssa Weninger an exemplary youth advocate in the OCD and related disorders community. The award was officially presented to Alyssa by UNSTUCK: an OCD kids’ movie. Alyssa is a high school junior who developed OCD after a Streptococcus infection at age eight. Following treatment, Alyssa decided to become an advocate for those affected by OCD, engaging others in conversation about OCD and OCD treatment. In the fall of 2018, she was appointed Director of Community Outreach for the Boston-based Mending Minds Foundation and she also generates social media coverage around PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) research. Alyssa is also currently working to rally support for an insurance bill in the Massachusetts legislature and she will also spend a summer in a neurobiology lab at MIT to help research infectious triggers of OCD, after convincing a prominent professor at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT to expand his research into this area.


The IOCD Foundation glossary describes OCD as follows: “Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder of the brain and behavior, causing severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values. People diagnosed with OCD spend over one hour per day struggling with repetitive intrusive thoughts, impulses, and/or behavioral urges that increase their anxiety. They try to control their obsessions with compulsive behaviors (rituals) in an attempt to reduce the anxiety.”

Additional, more detailed information on OCD can be found at the following major medical sites.

[National Institute of Mental Health--OCD]
[Harvard Medical School--OCD]


The so-called “Bergen-4” treatment, a remarkable four-day approach to treating OCD has received significant press in the last two years. Links to a Scientific American article (2018), a NY Times article (2018), a Time Magazine article (2018), and an IOCDF 2018 Winter Newsletter article are provided below.

[Scientific American Article (November 29, 2018) “4 Days of Intensive Therapy Can Reverse OCD for Years--Two Norwegian Psychologists Developed a Method of Treating the Condition That Is Gaining International Attention for Its Efficiency and Effectiveness”]
[NY Times Article (August 13, 2018) “With Short, Intense Sessions, Some Patients Finish Therapy in Just Weeks”]
[Time Magazine’s Top 50 Health Care Transformers (2018)—Two Clinical Psychologists from Norway Named for Their Bergen 4-Day Treatment for OCD]
[IOCDF Article (Fall 2018) “The Bergen 4-Day Treatment”]


The title sponsor of this year’s Annual OCD Conference was the Neurobehavioral Institute (NBI) ( The NBI offers evidence-supported highly intensive treatment for OCD, anxiety, and related conditions. Intensive treatment for those ages 18 and over may be enhanced at NBI Ranch, their residential support option in Southwest Ranches, Florida. NBI provides comprehensive psychological services for children, teens, and adults, including parent training, psychological assessments, and therapeutic groups in Weston and Coral Gables, Florida and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Treatment is conducted in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Platinum sponsors included McClean Hospital’s OCD Institute (a Harvard Medical School Affiliate) (, Peace of Mind Foundation (, Rogers Behavioral Health ( Sapphire and Gold sponsors included the Houston OCD Program ( and Texas State University (, respectively.
Silver sponsors included Biohaven Pharmaceuticals (, NW Anxiety Institute (, and the PCH Treatment Center ( The Bronze sponsor was AMITA Health (

[Annual OCD Conference Home]
[IOCDF Home]