Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health condition that involves obsessions, compulsions, or both.
People living with OCD typically experience obsessions, or repetitive unwanted thoughts that prompt an extreme urge to repeat a specific behaviour. They then act out that urge, or compulsion, to help relieve the obsessive thought.
Plenty of people double-check to make sure they’ve locked the front door or turned off the stove. It’s also very common to have a superstition or two, like knocking on wood. These habits might help you feel more secure, but they don’t automatically suggest OCD.
OCD involves two main types of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. Many people living with OCD experience both obsessions and compulsions, but some people only experience one or the other. Close to 3 per cent of people in Australia experience OCD in their lifetime and approximately 2 per cent in a 12-month period.
These symptoms aren’t just fleeting or short-lived. Even milder symptoms can take up at least an hour each day and significantly affect your day-to-day activities.
Obsessions or compulsions might affect your ability to pay attention at school or complete tasks at work. They could even keep you from going to school or work, or anywhere else.
You might realise the obsessive thoughts aren’t true, or know the compulsive behaviours won’t actually do anything to prevent them. Yet they often feel uncontrollable, all the same.
Common obsessive thoughts in OCD include:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others.
- Fear of losing control and harming yourself or others.
- Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images.
- Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas.
- Fear of losing or not having things you might need.
- Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right”.
- Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky.
Common compulsive behaviours in OCD include:
- Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches.
- Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe.
- Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety.
- Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning.
- Ordering or arranging things “just so”.
- Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear.
- Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food containers.
You can think of compulsions as a response to obsessions. Once an obsession surfaces, you might feel compelled to take action in order to relieve the anxiety and distress it causes or to keep that obsessive thought from coming true.
You might feel the need to repeat these actions a specific number of times, or until things seem “just right.” If you make a mistake during the ritual, you might feel that it won’t work unless you start from the beginning and finish it perfectly.
Treatment for OCD
Cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder and generally involves two components:
- Exposure and response prevention, which requires repeated exposure to the source of your obsession, as explained above.
- Cognitive therapy, which focuses on the catastrophic thoughts and exaggerated sense of responsibility you feel. A big part of cognitive therapy for OCD is teaching you healthy and effective ways of responding to obsessive thoughts, without resorting to compulsive behaviour.
We are Beck Institute CBT Certified Clinicians that demonstrate our expertise as leading practitioners of the most evidence-based psychotherapy treatment in the world.
These illnesses can cause stress for individuals, couples, marriages and families and getting professional help for their treatment and management is important. Please contact us on (08) 7079 9529 or via our Online Contact Form for more information or to make an appointment with a psychologist.