Greg Chasson, associate professor of psychology, recently led a four-day workshop on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for the Chinese Psychological Society in Beijing. He was invited to lead the workshop by Jianping Wang, M.D., Ph.D., a research collaborator at Beijing Normal University’s College of Psychology with whom he has worked on OCD research for 10 years.
According to the World Health Organization, OCD is in the top 10 leading causes of disability of in the developed world. One form of treatment for OCD is a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) technique called exposure and responsive prevention (ERP). Chasson’s workshop focused on teaching participants, who were mental health practitioners in China, how to better understand OCD from a cognitive-behavioral perspective and how to develop and refine ERP techniques for OCD treatment.
As Chasson’s first experience teaching a workshop abroad, he found that there was a bit of a learning curve when presenting his material in a different cultural context. “No one in the workshop spoke fluent English, so they had to hire an interpreter to provide real-time translation. I would have to stop every sentence or two to have the interpreter translate the message,” Chasson explains. “The pacing required a lot of consideration and being mindful of both the audience and interpreter’s perspective. Certain manifestations of OCD are different in China or not as common, so I had to be thoughtful about examples that I used. Some of my faithful and go-to examples were not great for the Chinese audience, so there was a lot of juggling in my head compared to other talks I would typically give.”
The workshop included several role-play exercises for attendees to practice ERP techniques. He found that some examples used during the exercises were very surprising to his attendees. “One of the most memorable moments of the workshop happened during one of the role-play exercises that demonstrated how to carry out an ERP technique,” Chasson says. “There are cases of OCD that revolve around fears of harming others by stabbing them. The best ERP treatment for this would require patients to sit with the very stimulus that makes them anxious. During the exercise, I asked attendees to hold a knife next my wrist with the potential to stab me, demonstrating a common ERP exercise we would use in therapy here in the U.S. There was quite a bit of shock and concern with this particular technique in the role-play, but by the end of the workshop, they were much more comfortable with it and even holding knives to each other as practice.”
In addition to the workshop, Chasson gave a talk on CBT for OCD to Dr. Wang’s trainees and clinicians at Beijing Normal University. He says that cross-cultural collaborations and experiences like these are important to furthering our research and knowledge base globally. “The landscape of psychological theory, research, and evidence-based techniques is growing rapidly in China, but still a bit behind the West,” reflects Chasson. “I see these types of workshops as a way of connecting with an important segment of the world, which also happens to be the largest, and working on finding the best tools for helping within their cultural context. We have much to learn from them, and they have much to learn from us. None of that learning is possible without people willing to bridge the divide.”