Home » Maybe, Maybe Not: An OCD Technique to Accept Uncertainty

Maybe, Maybe Not: An OCD Technique to Accept Uncertainty

by edinburghtherapyservice
10 minutes read

Maybe maybe not OCD

Navigating the intricate terrain of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) therapy often demands innovative approaches. Today, let’s explore a technique that embraces the very nature of uncertainty – the “maybe maybe not” approach. Have you heard of it before? This technique can be a valuable tool in disrupting the rigid thought patterns synonymous with the condition.

The “maybe maybe not” is a technique integrated within the framework of cognitive-behavioural therapy for OCD with the goal of developing a more flexible and balanced perspective towards obsessive thoughts.

How does it work?

When confronted with an obsessive thought, rather than immediately accepting it as true or trying to prove it wrong, you adopt a stance of uncertainty. You acknowledge the possibility that the feared outcome may happen (“maybe”) but also consider the possibility that it may not happen (“maybe not”). This introduces an element of doubt, challenging the absolute certainty that often fuels OCD.

For instance, if someone has obsessive thoughts about harming others, the “maybe maybe not” technique encourages them to entertain the possibility that the feared event might occur, but also to recognise the likelihood that it might not. This helps in breaking the cycle of constant reassurance-seeking or engaging in compulsive behaviours to alleviate anxiety.

In CBT, this technique aligns with the cognitive restructuring aspect, aiming to change rigid and catastrophic thinking patterns. It fosters a more realistic and nuanced view of the uncertainties in life, reducing the emotional intensity tied to obsessive thoughts.


Contamination fears: Instead of immediately engaging in compulsive hand-washing rituals due to a fear of contamination, one might say, “Maybe I touched something ‘dirty,’ and maybe I didn’t. Maybe I’ll get sick, and maybe I won’t.”

Checking rituals: When the urge to repeatedly check locks or appliances arises, individuals can acknowledge the uncertainty by saying, “Maybe the door is unlocked, and maybe it’s not. Maybe something bad will happen, and maybe it won’t.”

Fear of harming others: For those who experience intrusive thoughts about causing harm to others, they might say, “Maybe I’m a threat to others, and maybe I’m not. Maybe I need to avoid certain situations, and maybe I don’t.”

Order and symmetry concerns: When the compulsion to arrange items in a specific way arises, people can adopt the “maybe maybe not” mindset by saying, “Maybe something bad will happen if things aren’t in perfect order, and maybe it won’t. Maybe I can tolerate a bit of disorder.”

Intrusive thoughts about morality: For people who have distressing thoughts about morality or ethics, might say, “Maybe I’m a bad person, and maybe I’m not. Maybe having these thoughts doesn’t define who I am.”

Fear of accidents: If there’s an obsession with the fear of causing accidental harm, the person can say, “Maybe I’ll make a mistake, and maybe I won’t. Maybe I can learn to tolerate the uncertainty of daily life.”

Benefits of the “maybe maybe not” technique

The “maybe maybe not” technique can offer several potential benefits:

Reduced certainty-seeking behaviours: By encouraging an attitude of “maybe maybe not,” people may become less reliant on seeking certainty or reassurance to alleviate anxiety. This can break the cycle of compulsive behaviours associated with OCD.

Increased tolerance for uncertainty: The technique helps people develop a greater tolerance for uncertainty, a key aspect in managing OCD symptoms. This shift in mindset allows them to navigate the uncertainties of life without feeling overwhelmed by anxiety.

Challenging catastrophic thinking: OCD often involves catastrophic thinking, where individuals envision the worst-case scenarios. “Maybe maybe not” challenges these extreme thoughts, offering a more balanced perspective and reducing the emotional intensity tied to obsessive thoughts.

Promotion of flexibility in thinking: Adopting the “maybe maybe not” stance encourages cognitive flexibility. Instead of rigidly adhering to a particular belief, people learn to consider alternative possibilities, fostering a more adaptive and open-minded approach.

Remember, the application of such techniques may vary among individuals, and while you can work on them on your own, it is often a good idea to work closely with a qualified OCD therapist. Here, at Edinburgh Therapy Service, we specialise in OCD therapy and we can help you. If you are ready, take the first step and contact us!

Further reading

Do you offer OCD therapy near me?

Edinburgh Therapy Service offers both in-person OCD counselling in Edinburgh (United Kingdom), and online therapy accessible worldwide. You can find our exact location here. We specialise in therapy for OCD, offering CBT with ERP as the main treatment option. 

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The Edinburgh Therapy Service is a psychotherapy and counseling practice based in Edinburgh, Scotland (United Kingdom). We offer therapy both in-person in Edinburgh and online, available in English and Spanish.

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Contact us for more information or to book your first appointment: [email protected]