What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how do I know if I have it?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition where people have recurrent, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (Obsessions) and do things to get rid of the thoughts and the anxiety they cause (Compulsions). Everyone has unwanted thoughts at times, but to have OCD someone must spend enough time on their Obsessions and Compulsions that they are missing out on things that they want in their life.

Although OCD can come in many sub-types such as contamination, checking, scrupuloscity, or perfectionism. Regadless of how OCD presents, exposure and response prevention (ERP) is the most effective treatment. Effective ERP will not focus on understanding why people have unwatned thoughts. Instead, ERP will focus on understanding the responses people can develop to move on from these thoughts and move on with life. 

OCD is different from other anxiety disorders in a few unique ways. For instance, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a disorder where people worry consistently which interferes with their daily life. Worry is different from an obsession, a worry generally is a more realistic or immediate threat such as worry about getting in trouble at work, and an obsession is generally more “magical”, for instance: getting a rare disease for no reason. OCD can also come with panic attacks, but panic disorder is a separate disorder. Finding a therapist who understands and can treat any range of anxiety disorders can be helpful in finding the relief that you need.

How do I know if I have OCD?

People with OCD have unwanted reoccuring thoughts lasting at least one hour a day. The topics of these thoughts can vary, but often focus on a few consistent themes:

  • Thoughts about harming oneself or others even though they do not want to harm anyone

  • Thoughts about contamination

  • Sexually inappropriate thoughts

  • Thoughts about bad things happening to oneself or others

  • Thoughts about offending God, or thoughts about being a bad person

These thoughts cause significant anxiety, and a person with OCD will spend considerable time doing things to make the thoughts go away. These are called compulsions and can vary in how they are done, but often fall into a few consistent categories:

  • Staying away from situations where one may hurt others (e.g., refusal to hold knives around others)

  • Hand washing or cleaning

  • Review or thoughts, attempting to "balance" bad thoughts with good thoughts

  • Confessing bad thoughts to loved ones

  • Checking things multiple times to ensure that nothing bad has happened or will happen

If you think that you or a loved one may have OCD, please contact me for a free 15 minute assessment! 

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