Martine & Stephen


Essay/Review of “Brain Lock” and the “Mind and the Brain”

Dr. Schwartz, author of The Mind and the Brain and Brain Lock, found that “the error detector centered in the orbital frontal cortex and anterior cingulate can be overactivated and thus locked into a pattern of repetitive firing… This would cause an intense visceral sensation that something is wrong and that action of some kinds … is needed to make things right again”. He thought that “mindfulness practice and systematic mental note taking might allow OCD patients to become instantly aware of the intrusion of symptoms into conscious awareness and then to redirect attention away from these persistent thoughts and feelings and onto more adaptive behaviors”. He started to show patients with obsessive compulsive disorder the PET scans of their brains.

Dr. Schwartz then went on to develop a new treatment for obsession compulsion disorder. Its foundation is a combination of cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness. It consists in Four Steps:

· Relabel

· Reattribute

· Refocus

· Revalue

The method is for the patients to “Relabel their obsessions and compulsions as false signals, symptoms of a disease”. Then it is helpful if they can “Reattribute those thoughts and urges to pathological brain circuitry”. After that they need to “Refocus, turning their attention away from the pathological thoughts and urges into a constructive behavior”. Finally they can “Revalue the OCD obsessions and compulsions, realizing that they have no intrinsic value, and no inherent power”.



By Relabeling, OCD patient sees that the urge to do something, for example the urge to wash is not a real urge and need to wash but the result of their obsessive compulsive disorder. One of the tools at that stage is to “make real-time mental notes, in effect creating a running stream of mindful commentary on what they were experiencing”. By doing that the patients are able to “keep a rational perspective on the intrusive thoughts and urges”.



“The patient then reattributes OCD to aberrant messages generated by a brain disease and thus fortifies the awareness that it is not his true “self” “. Dr. Schwartz feels that “through mindfulness, the patient distances himself from his OCD. This puts mental space between his will and the unwanted urges that would otherwise overpower the will”.



People found it useful to keep a diary of good adaptive strategies that they have used in the past. The diary will remind them that they have tools and also that at times they have been successful in not engaging in the compulsion. One patient, Jeremy found that “when he had an irresistible urge to count cans he did needlepoint instead” and this boosted his confidence.



Dr. Schwartz sees revaluing as cultivating wise attention as taught by the Buddha. For him “revaluing is to view the intrusive thoughts and urges as merely passing events in the mind – admittedly unpleasant but intrinsically empty and insubstantial”.


These four steps might not be useful just for people with obsession compulsion disorder but also for people who might experience obsessive thoughts. It would then be essential to see that one does not always have all the time obsessive thoughts, that certain inner and outer conditions give rise to them, that certain activities might help in defusing them, that in the end one is not just one’s thoughts. One cannot reduce one’s identity to some passing thoughts, however intense, in one’s brain.

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