Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder in which people experience recurrent thoughts and feelings called obsessions. These thoughts make them feel driven to perform repetitive behaviors or rituals called compulsions. The repetitive behaviors can include things like hand washing, counting floor or ceiling tiles or intense cleaning. These thoughts and behaviors are considered a disorder because they can significantly interfere with a person’s daily living and relationships. Persistent thoughts or repetitive behaviors are not the sole domain of people living with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Almost everyone experiences these things from time to time. The difference is that in people living with OCD, those thoughts are almost ever-present, and the compulsions are regular and intense enough to interfere with everyday life. Not ‘giving in’ to the compulsion is extremely uncomfortable and stressful. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder are often aware that these feelings aren’t realistic or practical, but that doesn’t cause them to subside. Other OCD sufferers have what is known as limited insight which means they can rationalize their obsessions and compulsions.

How is OCD Diagnosed?

Diagnosing OCD necessitates the presence of obsessive thoughts and/or compulsions that interfere with daily living. The standard metric is if these thoughts and behaviors take more than one hour a day and significant stress and upset normal functioning. OCD affects about 3% of people in the U.S. It often begins in childhood, teenage years, or early adulthood.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is somewhat more prevalent in adult women than in adult men. Accurate diagnosis can only be performed by a trained professional. Ideally, a person who believes they have obsessive-compulsive disorder will be able to spend more than one visit with a clinician. An environment, such as partial-hospitalization treatment, where a patient can be observed and seen regularly and monitored as treatment progresses is ideal.

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Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often attempt to relieve the stress of the obsessions and compulsions, ignore or suppress them, or distract themselves. These coping mechanisms are rarely effective for long, if at all, in someone with an OCD diagnosis. Learning how to recognize some of the symptoms of this disorder is a good way to raise awareness and get a person the help they need if there is any uncertainty or lack of willingness to accept help. Of course, only a professional, clinical diagnosis can determine for certain if OCD is present. Here is a list of symptoms to watch for:


Obsessions are persistent, recurring thoughts, images, or feelings. These obsessive thoughts often trigger upsetting feelings like worry or disgust. People with OCD often realize their obsessions are not realistic, sensible, or true. However, this awareness does not provide any relief sadly. Attempts to control or distract themselves from the obsessions don’t relieve the symptoms or associated distress either. Only treatment can do that. Some OCD sufferers have what is known as limited insight which means they can rationalize their obsessions and compulsions. In either case, treatment is necessary to manage symptoms of OCD to the degree that a person will be able to live a happy, fulfilled life without being constantly troubled by them.

Some common obsessions include:

  • Disturbing or inappropriate sexual thoughts
  • Fixations on symmetry, alignment, or precision
  • Fear of filth or being contaminated by people/places
  • Recurring, troubling thoughts of images, words, sounds, or numbers
  • Fear of spontaneously shouting insults or obscene words
  • Worries about losing something precious or important


Repetitive actions or thought processes that a person feels driven towards in response to an obsession are known as compulsions. These behaviors usually need to be executed to reduce the distress caused by an obsession, even though the relief is only temporary. Some compulsions directly relate to an obsession, like excessive hand washing due to the fear of germs or filth. Other compulsions are seemingly unrelated to the obsession that triggers them. For example, a need to count the stairs you walk down before you get in the car to drive to work. For some people with OCD, these behaviors can take up so much of the day that it makes a routine of work, school, and leisure very difficult if not nearly impossible.

Commonly seen compulsions include:

  • Repeated, fastidious cleaning of objects
  • Excessive washing of hands or body or other bodily hygiene practices
  • Checking door locks or appliances over and over again
  • Repeatedly counting to a certain number
  • A need to align objects ‘just so’
  • Continuously seeking approval

Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Several evidence-based treatment methods can help with obsessive-compulsive disorder. They range from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to pharmacotherapy (medication) to self-care and wellness practices including meditation, yoga, exercise, and nutrition. The most effective treatment plans tend to include several of these elements. In combination, they can have a synergistic effect which provides the patient with more relief and resolution than they might have otherwise experienced.

If you believe you or someone you love is living with OCD, call The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center at (954) 758-4174

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