What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health disorder which consists of recurring thoughts or images (obsessions) that are difficult to ignore and cause a great deal of distress for the OCD sufferer. The discomfort from these obsessions causes one to engage in rituals or repetitive behavior (compulsions) to find relief. While it is common for people to take measures to avoid certain thoughts and feelings, people with OCD experience symptoms that cause significant distress and impairment.


Nature of OCD

When a person is triggered with an obsession they feel driven to perform a compulsion to reduce their anxiety.  Although this behavior is typically successful in reducing the anxiety initially; over time, the behavior actually reinforces the obsession and worsens the anxiety.  Consequently, this leads to more compulsions, more obsessions, and more anxiety. Obsessions in OCD vary widely from person to person but may include exaggerated fears of contamination, harming fears, sexually inappropriate thoughts, doubting, or religious fears.

  • This disorder often manifests in childhood but it can also strike later in life.
  • It is usually a life-long disorder, but it can be managed.
  • There is often a great deal of self imposed shame surrounding the obsessions which cause people struggling with OCD to hide their symptoms from family, friends, coworkers as well as medical professionals often leading to a delay in diagnosis.
  • Individuals with OCD often experience times where the disorder is relatively quiescent and others when the obsessive thoughts are more intense.


OC Spectrum Disorders

Some disorders share traits with OCD and are often called “OC Spectrum Disorders”. Many therapists who treat OCD also have expertise in treating these additional disorders. OC Spectrum Disorders include Hair Pulling (Trichotillomania), Skin Picking, Body Dismorphic Disorder and Compulsive Hoarding.


What Causes OCD

No one knows for sure but evidence indicates that it is biologically based. Often more than one family member is diagnosed with OCD suggesting that a genetic component is a factor in the etiology of this neurobiological disorder. Sometimes OCD appears to strike at random without any familial component. Whatever the “cause” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a real medical condition.


OCD Responds to Treatment

OCD treatment has greatly improved in recent years.  A form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) has been researched extensively and is shown to be very effective. This form of therapy requires the person with OCD to confront his/her feared triggers, experience his/her unwanted thoughts and feelings that result, and resist the urge to engage in compulsions. Through repeated exposure, the OCD sufferer becomes more tolerant of unwanted thoughts and feelings and feels less of a need to avoid triggers.

Medication can also be helpful. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) are the treatment of choice and work by balancing the serotonin in a person’s brain so that they experience less anxiety when triggered, and, in some cases, have fewer obsessions. The medication can be instrumental in successfully participating in Exposure and Response Prevention therapy.