Obsessive and Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder that is often misunderstood. It can be a term that is casually used for people who like things done a certain way or for perfectionist traits including cleaning, however for those with this disorder it can be very distressing and have significant impacts on their lives and functioning. OCD is charactised by both obsessions and compulsions, so let’s understand this a little more…What are obsessions?
Obsessions in OCD refer to unwanted, repeated, and persistent thoughts, images or sensations that are intrusive and cause distress or anxiety. Obsessions typically intrude when you’re trying to think of or do other things. For someone with this condition they might try to ignore their obsessions or more commonly get rid of them by performing compulsive behaviours or rituals.
What are compulsions?
Compulsions in OCD are acts or behaviours that sufferers are driven to perform in an effort to reduce their anxiety or mental discomfort. These repetitive behaviours or mental acts are related to the obsessions or are to prevent something bad from happening. However, engaging in the compulsions brings little to temporary relief and usually no pleasure.
Are there different types of OCD?
It is traditionally thought that OCD will fall into one of four main categories. Although, there could actually be infinite forms of OCD with themes often overlapping between categories.
- Checking – The need to check refers to the compulsion, connected to an obsessive fear to perhaps prevent damage, fire, leaks or harm.
- Contamination / Mental Contamination – A fear of being dirty or being contaminated is the obsessional worry, often associated with the fear that contamination might cause harm to self or a loved one. The common compulsions might be to wash or clean or perhaps avoid.
- Symmetry and ordering – This compulsion refers to the need to have everything lined up symmetrically or just ‘right’, the associated obsessive fear could be to ensure everything feels ‘just right’ to prevent or reduce discomfort, or sometimes to prevent harm occurring (sometimes referred to as magical thinking).
- Ruminations / Intrusive Thoughts – In the context of OCD, intrusive thoughts are repetitive and not voluntarily produced, and often considered by the sufferer to be horrific and repugnant in nature.
In Australia there are close to 3% of people who experience OCD in their lifetime and OCD can occur at any time across the lifespan. Children as young as six or seven may have symptoms, although it is understood that symptoms seem to develop fully for the first time in adolescence.
A combination of genetic and environmental factors are thought to contribute to the cause of OCD. It is understood that a number of factors may increase the risk of developing OCD, including family history, psychological & social factors.
While OCD is challenging and distressing it is also treatable.Seeking professional support is the important first step towards recovery. There are two main types of effective treatments for OCD
- Psychological treatments are generally considered to be the first line of treatment. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy by any therapist who understands and knows OCD aligns with evidence based practice.
- In some cases, medication could also be effective.
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