Things to Look For When it Comes to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder characterized by uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (referred to as obsessions), and/or behaviors that the person feels compelled to repeat (referred to as compulsions).  It should be noted that a person can have obsessions, compulsions, or both obsessions and compulsions in order to meet criteria for OCD.  The person does not necessarily have to experience both obsessions and compulsions to be diagnosed with OCD.  (In the past, it was necessary to have obsessions that led to compulsive behavior in order to be diagnosed with OCD).

Obsessions are defined by the DSM-5 as:

  • OCD - Obsessive Compulsive DisorderRecurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress
  • The individual attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or actions (i.e. by performing a compulsion).
  • Compulsions are defined by the DSM-5 as:
  • Repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.
  • The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety or distress, or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent, or are clearly excessive.

Common obsessions include fear of germs or contamination; unwanted or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, or harm; aggressive thoughts towards others or self; and having things symmetrical or in a perfect order.  Common compulsions include excessive cleaning and/or handwashing; ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way; repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking to see if the door is locked or that the oven is off; and compulsive counting.  Not all behaviors or thoughts driven by anxiety or habit meet criteria for compulsions or obsessions.  We all worry about doing things the right way and double check our work.  However, people that have obsessions and compulsions that meet criteria for OCD have the following qualities:

  • Cannot control his or her thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive
  • Spends at least one hour a day on these thoughts or behaviors
  • Does not get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but may feel brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause
  • Experiences significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts or behaviors

OCD is typically treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. If you notice that you have symptoms of OCD, you should talk to your doctor about treatment. 

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