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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterised by:

Recurrent, persistent and intrusive thoughts, images or impulses (obsessions) that occur against the individual’s will. These are experienced as inappropriate and repugnant to the individual and will often revolve around themes such as:

  • Harm to self or others

  • Contamination and germs

  • Distressing violent, sexual or blasphemous thoughts

Repetitive, ritualised behaviours (referred to as compulsions or compulsive behaviours) such as excessive hand-washing, endlessly checking to make sure that something has been done, an unhealthy degree of religiosity, and so forth. An attempt to resist a compulsive behaviour produces mounting tension and anxiety, which are relieved immediately by giving in and carrying out the behaviour. The term is not used for behaviours like excessive drinking, gambling, and eating etc. because these behaviours can cause considerable pleasure from. A person experiencing true Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) derives no pleasure from it other than the release of tension.

The problem lies in the fact that while these repetitive behaviours or compulsions might keep the unwanted anxiety at bay, they can become a hindrance to living positively in their own right, while also doing nothing to tackle the root problem. People with OCD often have a very negative self-image, and worry that if they do not engage in their obsessive behaviours, they might act out on their unwelcome thoughts and impulses.

OCD is often associated with a range of other disorders too, such as social anxiety, Asperger’s, ADHD and more. Sufferers can also be tempted to “self-medicate” with alcohol and illegal or prescription drugs.

How common is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is thoughts to occur in 3% of the adult population. Symptoms usually appear in early adulthood.

What is the treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Treatment is important, as the condition is likely to get worse with no intervention, but usually responds very well to CBT. Treatment will involve: 

  • Graded exposure and response prevention (ERP) –facing your fear and letting the obsessive thoughts occur without “putting them right” or “neutralising” them with compulsions

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