What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
OCD is most often characterized by two main symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive, unwanted, recurrent, and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that cause distress or anxiety. When obsessions occur, most people attempt to ignore, suppress, or do away with them either mentally or through action. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the individual feels pulled to perform in response to obsessions. These behaviors or mental acts are excessive and are intended to reduce one’s distress and/or prevent unwanted events from occurring.
Common Obsession Themes
- Contamination OCD: Fear of contamination or spreading germs
- Just right OCD: Needing to repeat certain behaviors (ex. Opening doors, flipping light switches) until it feels they’ve been done in “just the right way”
- Sexual OCD: Intrusive thoughts and intense fear of committing a sexually heinous act or of having an unacceptable sexual attraction, such as an attraction to children or family members.
- Fears about sexual orientation: Thoughts and fears about an unwanted attraction to people outside of one’s own identified sexual orientation (e.g. a gay person fearing attraction to the opposite sex or a straight person fearing attraction to the same sex).
- Scrupulosity OCD: Thoughts that contradict one’s faith and/or fears that one is not practicing their faith correctly
- Harm OCD: Fear of losing control and doing something terrible (e.g. harming one’s self or others)
- Relationship OCD: Uncertainties about one’s relationship (e.g. Is this the right person for me, Does my partner love me? Is my partner cheating on me?)
- Existential OCD: Existential fears about who you are and if things are real
- Excessive doubt (e.g. Have I hurt someone? Did I remember to lock to door? Did I make a mistake?)
- Perfectionism: Fears that one must make perfect decisions or perform certain tasks perfectly.
- Excessive washing and tracking possible cross contamination
- Checking locks, appliances, and doors
- Avoiding family members, children, and individuals one fears they may be attracted to
- Checking for arousal, excessive prayer, and excessive research
- Constant monitoring of one’s desires and excessive self-restraint
- Mental analysis and rumination
- Reassurance seeking
- Excessive vigilance of mistakes
Our approach to treatment, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), is the gold-standard treatment for OCD. It involves both systematically facing one’s fears and actively resisting the urge to engage in compulsions. Both processes are essential for progress to take place. Through approaching one’s fears and resisting avoidance, the cycle that maintains OCD is broken, new learning can occur, and one is able to retrain their brain to no longer give anxiety as a response to OCD triggers. This process involves embracing short-term discomfort in service of long-term progress. We also teach helpful education and skills that facilitate a new, healthier relationship with one’s thoughts, uncertainties, emotions, and body. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness have also demonstrated effectiveness for treating OCD.
Read more about ERP from the International OCD Foundation here: https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/ocd-treatment/erp/
To learn more about what our treatment looks like, click here: What to Expect In Therapy