What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes people to obsess over seemingly insignificant parts of life and complete ritual compulsions to avoid panic. The obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions interfere with a person’s daily life.

Myths About OCD

Unfortunately, people believe many misconceptions about OCD. Perhaps one of the most common myths about OCD is the idea that OCD is simply the same as being a “neat freak.” People can be particularly organized without having OCD. On the other hand, people can have OCD and not obsess over cleanliness. A person with OCD who obsesses over cleanliness does so at the expense of living a healthy life. 

Misconceptions about OCD hurt those who live with the disorder. Taking time to understand what the disorder truly is can help those who live with it.

Diagnosing OCD

When mental health professionals try to determine if someone has a disorder, they turn to a book called the DSM-5. This manual sets specific criteria for the OCD diagnosis. First, the symptoms must be so severe that the patient spends at least one hour per day with obsessions or compulsions. Secondly, the patient must have stress as a result of the obsessions or compulsions. 

The symptoms of OCD do not bring satisfaction to the patient. Instead, they feel trapped by their own obsession and compulsions. Completing a ritual only brings relief because the patient believes they have avoided a disaster.

Understanding Obsessions and Compulsions

As discussed, OCD has two primary forms of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. 

Obsessions cause a person to think almost constantly about a specific topic, usually something that others barely give a second thought to. For example, someone with OCD may constantly think about how much bacteria are on every surface. 

Compulsions are the actions that stem from the obsessive thoughts. For example, the patient who obsesses over germs may feel like they need to sanitize the door before touching it. Furthermore, the patient feels like they need to complete this action or risk a very serious threat. Not completing the compulsion causes extreme panic.

Symptoms of OCD

  • Obsessions and compulsions
  • Guilt over the compulsions
  • Panic attacks
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Hoarding tendencies
  • Avoiding parts of daily life due to fears of triggers

Treatment Options for OCD

OCD is a chronic condition for which there is no cure. However, several treatment options can help people manage the symptoms of OCD. Because OCD is complex, patients may need different types of treatment at different times. A personalized approach to healing may include any of the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Medication

ERP is a type of CBT specifically for people with OCD or phobias. It usually goes hand-in-hand with talk therapy. During ERP, a patient avoids doing a compulsion. Then, the counselor talks them through the reaction. Over time, the patient truly realizes that nothing bad will happen if they avoid completing their rituals.

While talk therapy is extremely useful in the treatment of OCD, it is often not enough to eliminate symptoms. Patients may also need prescriptions and medication management services. Medications for OCD include:

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