What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Symptoms and Treatment Options

Have you ever found yourself double-checking if the front door is locked? Or (after having left the house) returning to make sure that you shut the garage door? While these behaviors are indeed “normal”, and essentially part of human nature, persons suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (commonly referred to as OCD) find that they occur far more frequently. In fact, OCD sufferers may perform these repetitive actions multiple times per day. For example, someone without OCD may go back to their house once or twice to check that they locked the door. A person with OCD may go back to check their door five, ten, or even twenty times! As you can probably tell, OCD interferes with a person’s daily life. It affects their ability to perform simple, day-to-day tasks, and hinders their ability to be productive at work, school, and at home. Before we get into OCD symptoms however, let’s take a look at the definition of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in order to get a better understanding of this psychological issue.

What is OCD?

Technically, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of Anxiety Disorder. Persons with OCD symptoms experience unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts. This is the “obsessive” part with OCD. These thoughts are so intrusive and overbearing that they can consume and overtake a person’s mind, making thoughts of anything else nearly impossible. Then there is the “compulsive” component in OCD symptoms. This is when the obsessive thoughts manifest themselves into ritualized, habitual behaviors that the person feels compelled to perform. Often these repetitive behaviors are performed in order to make the obsessive thoughts disappear. This is will not work, however, as usually these obsessive thoughts return and are often much stronger when they do. Acting out on the obsessive thoughts by performing compulsive behavior may temporarily make you feel better if you have OCD, but they generally manifest themselves into serious and debilitating rituals that interfere with and affect your daily functioning. Even a person with OCD will tell you that they recognize their thoughts and behaviors are probably irrational and may even appear neurotic to those around them, but somehow they cannot seem to shake them, no matter how hard they try. People with this diagnosis find themselves unable to resist thinking about and performing behaviors over and over again. They cannot break free from the obsessive thoughts, and the urges to engage in the repetitive behaviors are so overwhelming that they cannot simply ignore them.

Here’s an example to better illustrate the above concept and its symptoms: You have just finished cooking lunch on the stove and have to head out to an appointment. After eating your lunch, you gather your belongings and leave the house to drive over to your destination. When you get in the car and begin to drive, you start to wonder whether or not you have turned the stove off. The thought of your house catching fire and burning to the ground begins to consume you – it’s all you can think about now. You are imaging the worst: you’re driving away from your house which is burning down by now, with all of our precious belongings and pets trapped inside! How could you possibly carry on driving? You must go back home to ensure that the stove is off, even if it means you’ll be late for your appointment. So you turn around and head back to your house, go inside, enter the kitchen, and find (thankfully) that the stove is indeed “off”. You get back into your car and head back out to that appointment of yours, only to be bothered once again by intrusive, overbearing thoughts about the stove still being on. You go back to the house to check the stove again, only to find that it is in fact in the “off” position. This pattern may stop here, after just two checks, but often we find that persons with OCD report that their “checking” behaviors are much more frequent – up to twenty times even!

Before we get into the signs and symptoms of OCD, I will distinguish between the five different types of people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:

  1. Checkers: as described above in the stove example, these people frequently second guess themselves, especially when it comes to things like making sure electrical items are turned off and doors are shut and locked properly.
  2. Cleaners: these people are extremely afraid of contamination by germs and bacteria. A common, ritualistic behavior for this type of OCD person is hand-washing. The person may wash his/her hands over and over again, even to the point where they become raw and sore. The famous comedian, TV host, and actor Howie Mandel is an example of a person with this type.
  3. Organizers: these people are often superstitious, especially when it comes to numbers and dates. They are also obsessed with symmetry and order. For example, a person with this OCD may color-code the permanent markers in their desk drawer, or arrange the clothes in their closet in a very sectioned or structured way.
  4. Doubters: these individuals are often perfectionists. They feel like anything that is done imperfectly could potentially cause them to be punished in some way.
  5. Hoarders: if something gets thrown away or discarded, even by accident, these people feel as though something terrible may happen. As a result, they may hoard items that they no longer use, “just in case”.

Signs & Symptoms of OCD:

Please note: Even if you have obsessive thoughts or compulsive behavior rituals you engage in, you do not necessarily have a diagnosis of OCD. It is important to consult with a professional who is experienced in working with individuals who have Anxiety Disorders, such as OCD, in order to obtain a proper diagnosis. Please feel free to give me a call at my San Diego office for a free consultation.

Symptoms: Common Obsessive Thoughts:

  • Fear of contamination by germs and/or bacteria
  • Fear of forgetting or losing something you need
  • Having recurrent violent or sexually explicit thoughts and images
  • Paying extra attention to things you consider “lucky” or “unlucky” (being very superstitious)

Symptoms: Common Compulsive Behaviors:

  • Double-checking things like switches, doors, and appliances excessively
  • Spending an extended amount of time washing either yourself or the environment in which you live
  • Collecting or hoarding items that you no longer use
  • Being a perfectionist when it comes to order and symmetry

Therapy for Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:

There are a number of therapy options for OCDDepending on your situation and your individual needs (which I will assess once we have met and had the opportunity to discuss your issues), one or more of the following therapies for OCD may be helpful for you:

  1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): You may have read my previous blogs on Anxiety Disorders and learned about the benefits of CBT for OCD. This is, by far, the most effective treatment for OCD. CBT will help you to understand your obsessive and intrusive thoughts, pinpoint the ritualistic and compulsive behaviors you engage in, and help you to re-frame these thoughts so that these behaviors are lessened dramatically. As an experienced San Diego Therapist for OCD, I can help you restructure the obsessive, recurring thoughts you are having and aid you in re-framing them, so that you do not feel compelled to perform problematic behaviors as often. Together, we will figure out healthier ways to cope with your obsessions so that they no longer interfere with your day-to-day functioning.
  2. Exposure Therapy and Response Prevention: In order to succeed in this type of therapy, you will have to face the sources of your obsessions (i.e. germs), and avoid performing the compulsive behavior (i.e. hand washing) that usually occurs after the intrusive thoughts. This may sound like a daunting task, but confronting your fears and anxieties is a huge part of being able to overcome them so that they no longer control you, and instead, you control them.
  3. Family Therapy: If you live among your family, you may benefit from this type of therapy. Since the entire family is affected (even if only one member has OCD), Family Therapy can help you and your family better understand all the dimensions of OCD. It promotes understanding as well as facilitates healthy family discussions about ways of dealing with OCD together.
  4. Group Therapy: By interacting and socializing with other OCD sufferers, you will begin to realize that you are not the only one dealing with this problem. In fact, you may benefit from Group Therapy by feeling less alone and less isolated, since you will be listening to others speak about their debilitating OCD symptoms and how they deal with them when they arise.

Regardless of the severity of your OCD symptoms and the “type” of OCD you may have, I am an experiencedAnxiety Counselor in the San Diego area who is able to help you to not only challenge your obsessive thoughts, but to control your urges to perform the ritualistic behaviors that accompany them. Remember, educating yourself about OCD the first step, so if you’ve read this far, you are already on your journey to overcoming OCD and getting your life back!  Call me at 858-481-0425 for more info.

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.

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