“Please help me”: Excessive Reassurance Seeking as an Interpersonal Process in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Health Anxiety

  • Brynjar Halldorsson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Excessive Reassurance Seeking (ERS) is an under-researched and poorly understood behaviour that resembles the compulsive behaviours that are typically seen in obsessional problems. ERS can be complex, persistent, extensive, debilitating and may dominate the interactions of those involved. In addition to resembling compulsive checking in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) it may have the effect of transferring responsibility to another person. However, it could be seen as a type of support. Both ERS and support are defined and key questions about these concepts are considered in five studies which examine ERS from the perspectives of non-clinical samples, sufferers of anxiety problems, caregivers and therapists. Study 1 qualitatively examines interpersonal components of ERS in OCD and identified the experience of frustration in caregivers as being particularly pervasive. Study 2 examines the diagnosis specific/transdiagnostic elements of ERS in OCD and health anxiety contrasted with support using mixed methods. Results revealed some limited diagnosis specificity of ERS. Strikingly, people with health anxiety did not seek support; reassurance seeking may be their default response. Study 3 uses a larger sample to quantitatively evaluate therapists’ perception of ERS and its treatment, with results suggesting that there is considerable room for improvement. Study 4 examined therapeutic intervention for ERS in treatment refractory OCD using a single case experimental design; Cognitive Behavioural Treatment (CBT) that focuses on treating ERS had beneficial effects. Study 5 tackled the diagnosis specific/transdiagnostic issues in a questionnaire by considering ERS across different anxiety problems. ERS may represent a final common pathway of multiple processes; some processes appear transdiagnostic; others may indicate disorder specificity. Overall, findings reveal the complexity of ERS and its likely nature as a safety-seeking behaviour which requires attention in treatment. Engendering support as an alternative to reassurance in CBT may be particularly promising.
Date of Award20 May 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorPaul Salkovskis (Supervisor) & Ailsa Russell (Supervisor)


  • Excessive Reassurance Seeking
  • Anxiety disorders
  • OCD
  • Health anxiety
  • Cognitive Behavioural Treatment

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