What is OCD?

OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (is an anxiety disorder that causes patients to fixate on smaller aspects of life in an outsized way. These fixations interfere with the individual’s quality of life and ability to execute regular daily tasks many times. 


OCD – The Myths

There are a number of stereotypes out there when it comes to OCD. One of the most prominent is that someone with OCD is obsessively clean. Simply being neat or organized does not mean one has an OCD. A clean person cleans their house often; someone with an OCD about cleaning cleans so much they sometimes cannot leave their house or do things like get to work. 

Cliches like this about OCD dilute the true suffering of those with the condition. Understanding the truth about OCD is important for the individuals with the condition and society at large. 


The Diagnostic Criteria for OCD  

The DSM is the tool that mental health professionals use to diagnose someone with OCD. This manual lays out a set of criteria a patient must meet to receive a diagnosis. Symptoms must interfere with a person’s quality of life, as in the example above. Additional diagnostic requirements include experiencing the obsessions for at least one hour every day and experiencing stress as a result. It is important to understand that OCD is not satisfying for the patient; instead, he or she feels as if they are staving off disaster by performing obsessive tasks– a very stressful scenario. 


Types of Obsessive Thoughts and Compulsions

OCD takes on two forms: obsessive thoughts and compulsions.

With obsessive thoughts, an individual thinks constantly about something that might never occur to another person. As an example, they might fixate on the number of germs on a doorknob, whereas a person without the disorder wouldn’t think twice about touching the knob.  

Compulsions, on the other hand, often stem from these thoughts. The patient who thinks obsessively about the germs on the doorknob may need to engage in a compulsive ritual in order to touch or turn that knob. Compulsions are deadly serious for the patient, who sincerely believes that failure to perform the compulsions could result in disaster. 


Symptoms of OCD

  • Obsessive thinking and compulsions 
  • Performance of ritualistic tasks
  • Avoidance of certain triggers
  • Nightmares
  • Hoarding
  • Guilt and stress over compulsions
  • Panic attacks

Treating OCD

OCD is a complex disorder and any intervention should be tailored specifically to a patient’s needs. A mental health professional might employ any of the following in treating this disorder:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Group therapy sessions
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
  • Medication

One or any combination of the above may be the best approach for a patient. ERP is a type of CBT and involves careful and systematic exposure to triggers done in tandem with talk therapy. An ERP patient might be asked to not perform a ritual, after a time. In session, the patient and therapist would then explore how nothing terrible happened as a result of failing to perform a ritual. 

Talk therapy alone is not always successful with OCD. Patients who need to supplement therapy with medication can consider the following with the advice of their psychiatrist. :

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)