Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is an illness of the brain that can cause people to obsess about things and feel compelled to perform a behavior. Frequently, people with OCD experience excessive doubt that can lead to repeated checking behaviors (e.g. did the person turn the stove off). Others with OCD experience a fear of contamination, which can lead to excessive hand washing or bathing rituals. Many are concerned with order and things being symmetrical. Some have intrusive, unwanted sexual thoughts. And there are many other ways that OCD can be debilitating.

What OCD is Not

Some people use the term “OCD” as a way to describe someone who is extremely organized or keeps things very clean. Making a distinction between this cleanliness and real OCD is important. Someone who enjoys cleaning--but it doesn’t interfere with any other areas of functioning--does not have a diagnosis of OCD.

Using the term in this way diminishes the suffering that people with OCD face and may keep some people from seeking help.

OCD Diagnosis Criteria

As with many mental illnesses, the main difference between someone who is tidy and someone who has OCD is how much it interferes with daily functioning. Furthermore, someone with OCD experiences significant distress. Typically, professionals diagnose OCD when the thoughts or behaviors cause a lot of distress and interfere with some area of functioning (e.g. work, school, relationship). 

Examples of Obsessive Thoughts

People with OCD obsess over things that others would easily overlook. For example, someone may feel as though they need to turn the light on and off precisely 12 times. Not giving in to the obsession can cause significant anxiety and even panic attacks.

People with OCD may also feel compelled to put things in specific order, avoid particular colors, or go through extreme measures to keep loved ones and themselves safe. 

There are endless examples of OCD behaviors.

OCD Symptoms

  • Unwanted, intrusive thoughts
  • Feeling out of control of one’s thoughts
  • Compulsive behavior (e.g. performing rituals, counting)
  • Hoarding
  • Guilt about compulsive behavior
  • Panic attacks
  • Isolation

OCD Treatment

Depending on the severity of a person’s OCD, the medical team may decide that medication, therapy, or a combination of both will be needed.

Therapy Options:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy

One of the most effective therapy treatments is ERP. This involves purposefully exposing self to the OCD trigger to elevate the anxiety. Then therapists help the person learn to react to that trigger differently. Over time, the behavior changes.

Medication Options:

For many OCD patients, therapy is not enough to completely eliminate the symptoms. Common prescriptions for OCD include: 

  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Fluvoxamine