Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is more than just being fastidious about cleaning or checking the oven is off.
People with OCD normally have unreasonable fears (called obsessions) which they try to reduce by performing certain behaviours (called compulsions).
OCD is thought to affect around 2.3% of people at some point in their lives.
Most people develop symptoms before they are twenty-years-old.
Perhaps the most familiar example is people repeatedly washing their hands (a compulsion) to avoid getting a disease (an obsession).
That said, though, some people are considered to have OCD despite ‘only’ having obsessions or ‘only’ having compulsions.
Around 70% have both obsessions and compulsions, 20% just obsessions and 10% compulsions alone.
As with most psychological problems, OCD involves normal fears which are taken to extreme.
It’s perfectly normal to be worried about disease, but extremely inconvenient to wash your hands 300 times a day.
Both obsessions and compulsions are a matter of degree.
Once it’s causing problems in everyday life, it needs addressing.
Here are some common obsession:
- Need for orderliness and symmetry.
- Fear of dirt or contamination by germs.
- Excessive doubt.
- Fear of sinful or evil thoughts.
- Fear of making a mistake.
- Fear of harming another person.
- Thinking about acting inappropriately or shouting obscenities.
Here are some typical compulsions:
- Getting mentally ‘stuck’ on certain images or thoughts that won’t go away.
- Repeated hand-washing, showering or bathing.
- Repeating particular words or phrases.
- Always arranging things in a certain way.
- Constant counting during routine tasks, whether mentally or out loud.
- Performing tasks a certain number of times.
- Always checking things like locks or ovens.
- Collecting or hoarding things with no value.
Most people are fully aware that their thoughts and/or behaviours are unreasonable, some are not.
Stress normally makes the symptoms of OCD worse.
Around one-third of people with OCD also make repeated sudden movements or sounds.
These are called ‘tics’.
It’s not known exactly what causes OCD, but it’s likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
In other words: it runs in the family and it’s likely brought on by stress.
Typically, people are treated with medication and cognitive-behavioural therapy.
There’s some question over whether medication really helps much.
Psychological therapies, though, are usually helpful.
Therapy often involves learning to tolerate anxiety without performing the ritualised behaviour.
While most people are not cured, the majority can learn to manage the symptoms and live a normal life.
After treatment, most people see a substantial reduction in their symptoms.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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