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The boy who couldnt stop washing Essay

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At school, Charles had been an enthusiastic student with particular abilities in chemistry and biology. He was a very easy going boy with a friendly and playful disposition. There had been talk of him pursuing a medical career. However, at about the age of 12, he had started to wash compulsively. There appeared to be no reason why this behaviour started, but washing took up more and more of his time each day.

He tried to keep his obsessive compulsive symptoms under control during the time he was at school. However, over months, his resistance weakened and his OCD became so severe that his time – consuming rituals took over his life.  Charles was forced to leave school because he was spending so much of the day washing. His washing ritual always followed the same deliberate pattern. He would hold the soap under the water spray for one minute in his right hand and then out of the water for one minute in his left hand, He would repeat this for at least one hour. After washing for about three hours, Charles would spend about two hours getting dressed.

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Charles mother discouraged his strange washing rituals, but later, not wanting to see his misery ‘helped’ him by obsessively cleaning items in the house with alcohol and stopped people from entering in the house with their ‘germs’. Charles father could not understand these behaviours and spent more and more time at work.

Charles didn’t hear voices, but felt that he was compelled to clean and wash obsessively because of some internal and insistent sense. Charles was aware that his behaviour appeared crazy to others but didn’t feel crazy. Charles was asked what would happen if he didn’t wash. He believed that he might become sick or that it would be bad luck. Charles couldn’t explain why his compulsion started or why it continued. Charles had never met another person with his condition.

Whilst Charles was being treated he developed a drug tolerance and the beneficial effects waned. Charles was eventually treated with the drug Anafranil and his symptoms disappeared for about a year. Unfortunately, he developed a tolerance to the drug. Although some of his symptoms returned, they were not as marked as before and he was able to control the amount of washing he did. Charles found that by conducting his washing rituals in the evenings, they did not interfere so much with his day-to-day activities. Charles was put on a treatment programme that helped to reduce many of his symptoms. He was able to resume a normal life.


Rolls, G (2010) Classic case studies in psychology (2nd.ed) British Library: London pg 155

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