People with this form of anxiety will have recurrent, disturbing, irrational thoughts called obsessions, which they try to manage through, sometimes highly, ritualized behaviors called compulsions.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder. The person may realize that his/her thoughts are probably irrational, but they fear that the thoughts might be real.
Symptoms of OCD may develop at any stage of life, but one third of people with OCD developed their first symptoms in childhood. Symptoms may increase or decrease at different points in the person’s life. Both men and women seem to develop the disorder in equal numbers. Over 2 million Americans are affected by this disorder, which is believed to run in families. Imbalances in brain chemistry appears to be a factor in the development of this disorder.
Because most people with this disorder realize their thoughts are irrational and their behaviors are not typical, they often attempt to hide their symptoms. Because of this, many people with OCD go untreated. OCD is highly treatable with medication and behavior therapy. If left untreated, the disorder seems to worsen as a person ages.
Signs and Symptoms
These are the recurrent and intrusive thoughts the person with OCD is usually unable to control. These thoughts are often disturbing in nature, causing the person fear or dread
Some examples of obsessive thoughts might include “I might have left on the oven” or “if I don’t check the lock on the door, something terrible might happen.”
Some of the thoughts may be religious in nature and may center around sin.
When the person experiences obsessions, they may engage in behaviors such as constantly checking doors or appliances, perhaps even seconds after they checked the last time, counting, hoarding, repetitive hand washing, cleaning, or constantly going to confession, in an attempt to make the thoughts or the anxiety associated with them go away.
While many of us may have similar thoughts or engage in these kinds of behaviors from time to time for people with OCD the rituals begin to control the individual’s life. They may spend hours each day engaging in these rituals causing severe strain in their relationships, impairing daily activities, and perhaps contributing to an inability to maintain employment.
Common forms of Treatment
Since OCD seems to have a strong connection to brain chemistry, specifically the way the brain manages the chemical serotonin, medication treatment is highly successful in reducing or eliminating a persons obsessive thoughts and the accompanying behaviors, sometimes in as little as 3 to 4 weeks. The medications used often fall into the class called SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), which are commonly used to treat depression.
Behavioral Therapy focuses on learning practical, concrete tasks to address a specific issue. Behavioral therapy is often seen in conjunction with Cognitive Therapy, but can be used in the context of many different forms of therapy.
This is a form of Behavioral Therapy that exposes the person with OCD to the object which causes them fear or dread gradually desensitizing them to the feelings associated with it. If a person with OCD was afraid of dirt or becoming dirty, the person might be gradually exposed to the dirt perhaps first by being asked to sit near a container of dirt, gradually getting closer and closer, and eventually being asked to touch it.
Cognitive therapy is a form of talk therapy that helps people to examine the thoughts that influence their choices and behavior. Cognitive therapy challenges irrational thoughts and works to replace them with more rational ones.
Family Systems Therapy
This refers to a number of different therapy models that recognize that families influence who we are. The messages we learn from our families can help us to cope with stress later in life, or they can create unhealthy styles of coping. Family Systems Therapies help us to explore and use the role of family relationships, legacies, spoken and unspoken messages, and styles of communication to heal from issues that cause us distress in the present.
If you would like more information or an assessment by a mental health professional you can contact Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services at
1-866-682-2166 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Information courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health