What is OCD
(Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)

From time to time we all have some urges to do what might seem to be a bit embarrassing.

Have you ever checked that you locked the door, turned the water tap off, or turned the gas off knowing that you actually did it several minutes ago?

If it happens to you once in a while, then there is nothing to worry about. But what is ‘once in a while’?

When would we call it obsessive-compulsive disorder?

by Elia Strange


What is OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder, where the mind becomes flooded with persistent and uncontrollable thoughts, and the individual feels the need to repeat certain behaviour again and again, which is distressing and interferes with their everyday functioning.

Around 2.3-2.5 percent of the population is affected and most of them are women. Nearly 2.2 million Americans are affected by OCD each year.

It is not uncommon for someone with OCD to experience severe generalised anxiety, recurrent panic attacks, debilitating avoidance, and major depression, all occurring simultaneously with obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

What causes OCD

Usually OCD starts either before the age of 10 or in late adolescence or early adulthood. In some rare cases young children are also affected. Psychologists know of children as early as the age of 2, who were affected by OCD.

Later cases usually start after some significant and/or stressful event: wedding, childbirth, difficulties at work or in the family. Often people suffering from OCD have other psychological problems such as anxiety or panic attacks.

dog in outfit


“I’m a little bit obsessive-complusive... It’s a little difficult to deal with. The obsessive part – I’ll get a thought in my head, and I can’t put it out.

It’s just there all the time. I think about it when I go to bed, I think about it when I get up... I’m a ‘checker’ – I have to check things... I don’t cook, but I have to check the stove every morning... not always really rational.”

Common OCD behaviours:

- Feeling the need for cleaning and tidying which can last hours or even most of the day

- Avoiding particular objects, for example – anything of brown color

- Performing repetitive, magical, protective practices, such as counting, saying certain numbers, or touching talisman or a particular part of the body

- Checking, going back seven or eight times to verify that already performed acts were actually carried out (e.g. doors locked, gas faucets turned off, windows shut)

- Performing a particular act, such as eating extremely slowly

russian cat


Enslaved by Ritual

Richard, a 19-year-old college freshman majoring in philosophy, withdrew from school because of incapacitating ritualistic behaviour.

He abandoned personal hygiene because the compulsive rituals that he had to carry out during washing or cleaning were so time consuming that he could do nothing else. Almost continual showering gave way to no showering. He stopped cutting and washing his hair and beard, brushing his teeth, and changing his clothes. He left his room infrequently and, to avoid rituals associated with the toilet, defecated on paper towels, urinated in paper cups, and stored the waste in the closet.

He ate only at night when his family was asleep. To be able to eat he had to exhale completely, making a lot of hissing noises, coughs, and hacks, and then fill his mouth with as much food as he could while no air was in his lungs.

He would eat only a mixture of peanut butter, sugar, cocoa, milk, and mayonnaise. All other foods he considered contaminants. When he walked he took very small steps on his toes while continually looking back, checking and rechecking. On occasion he run quickly in place. He withdrew his left arm completely from his shirt sleeve as if he was crippled and his shirt was a sling.

Is it treatable?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the most difficult problems to treat. About 20 percent of people may recover completely (often after many years of therapy and treatments).

Some psychological therapies, for example, Exposure and Ritual Prevention (ERP), involve patients being exposed to their ritualistic behaviours (e.g. washing hands after touching a dirty dish) and teaching them to refrain from the act (e.g. washing their hands).

Other therapies, such as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, help the patients to change their thinking and reduce their OCD behaviour through this cognitive approach.

Finally, certain drugs (Biological treatment), mainly antidepressants, increase the patients’ serotonin levels in the brain. The problem with these drugs is that although they are very effective whilst you are taking them, they often have many unpleasant side effects. So therefore, psychological treatments are often preferable.

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'What is OCD' Article Reference:
-Davison, G.C., Neale, J.M., & Kring, A.M. (2004). Abnormal Psychology. (9th ed). USA: Wiley.
-Anxiety and Its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic (2nd ed)
-Durand, V.M. & Barlow, D.H. (2006). Essentials of Abnormal Psychology. (4th ed.). Belmont, USA: Thomson Higher Education.

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