Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as an anxiety disorder. It is characterized by habitual, recurrent and disturbing thoughts (also known as obsessions) and/ or repetitive behaviors (also known as compulsions). Research has indicated that OCD is rooted in a biochemical imbalance within one’s brain. It is most common for an individual with OCD to experience both obsessions and compulsions. In order for an individual with OCD to manage his or her obsessions, he or she will actively attempt to avoid any triggers, by way of avoiding situations, and/ or neutralizing obsessions by engaging in a related compulsion. Even in situations where an individual with OCD recognizes his or her thoughts and/ or behaviors to be excessive and/ or senseless, he or she will be unable to refrain from carrying them out. OCD can be a debilitating condition as it drastically affects one’s thoughts, actions, and behaviors. There are several common obsessions associated with OCD. They can include, but are not limited to the following examples:

  • Contamination (i.e. fear of germs, dirt, and/ or illness)
  • Safety 
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts 
  • Religiously preoccupied 
  • Unwanted acts of aggression 
  • A need for exactness and/ or symmetry
  • Superstitions 
  • Fear of losing or not having items one needs

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) provide examples of commonly reported compulsions in association with OCD, which include the following:

  • Habitually double checking things (i.e. door closed, appliance turned off, water faucet shut…etc.)
  • Constantly engaging in senseless behaviors in attempts to reduce stress (i.e. tapping, counting, repeating words…etc.)
  • Spending excessive amounts of time washing or cleaning (i.e. ritualized hand washing)
  • Consistently and continuously checking in on the safety of loved ones
  • Ordering and/ or arranging things symmetrically and/ or no flexibility regarding the placement of items
  • Unable to discard superfluous items (i.e. hoarding) 

It is not uncommon for an individual with OCD to struggle with several different types of obsession and compulsions simultaneously. Alternatively, some individuals may experience only one component of OCD (either compulsions or obsessions). The symptoms associated with OCD can be incredibly time consuming, and will undoubtedly impede an individual’s relationships as well as interfere with many aspects of his or her daily life. 

Treatment Options

Prior to seeking any type of professional treatment for OCD, an individual must be clinically diagnosed with the disorder. Much like any mental health disorder, it is best to obtain a diagnosis from a qualified mental health professional (i.e. psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker…etc.). This typically includes a comprehensive psychological evaluation as well as a physical exam. Every individual is different and has nuanced needs when it comes to establishing a treatment plan for OCD. Each individual will respond distinctly to the various types of treatment methods available to those with OCD. The typical treatment options for OCD usually consist of medication and/ or psychotherapy. There are a variety of contributing factors when attempting to distinguish which is more effective. It is also not uncommon for both options to be integrated into an individual’s treatment plan.

  • Medication: while medications have not been identified as a sole treatment method for OCD, depending on the situation, there are several psychiatric medications that may be helpful to one’s treatment. For example, antidepressant medications such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are FDA-approved as an effective treatment option for adults with OCD.
  • Therapy: there are a variety of psychotherapeutic methods relied upon by mental health clinicians to help treat an individual with OCD. Many individuals with OCD will require tailored treatment plans, which often involve utilizing a combination of different therapy strategies. Specific types of therapy frequently used to treat OCD include various types of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and behavior techniques, more specifically the behavioral treatment known as ERP therapy (exposure and response prevention). 

In addition to formalized psychotherapy, there are a myriad of relaxation techniques that can be helpful in managing one’s OCD symptoms. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy lifestyle (i.e. regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits) can contribute to reducing one’s anxieties and keeping OCD symptoms at bay. In situations where medication is deemed beneficial in assisting to regulate the manifestation of one’s OCD symptoms, it is usually done so as a supplementary component of one’s treatment plan that consists of one or more therapeutic modalities. According to the Mayo Clinic, a combination of psychotherapy and medication provide an individual with optimum chances for a successful outcome. Although each individual is different, with the proper treatment, an individual with OCD can generally begin to experience some relief from his or her symptoms within six months.