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obsessive compulsive disorder

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.) is a psychological condition where the sufferer gets stuck on one (or more) particular thought(s) and typically acts on them. It is a medical brain disorder that causes problems with information processing. O.C.D. often goes hand-in-hand with eating disorders and depression.



O.C.D. usually involves the sufferer having both obsessions and compulsions, but it is possible to have one without the offer. It affects people of all ages and does not always represent an illness. For example, religious practices or bedtime songs may be part of everyday life. By the same token, many people have fears of being contaminated or worry about germs/bacteria etc and it is natural for these fears to be increased during times of stress, such as when a family member is sick or dying. It is when these fears persist, make no sense, cause distress or interfere with a person’s life that they need to be clinically addressed.

Common obsessions and compulsions:
  • Contamination, fears of dirt, germs [washing]
  • Imagining having harmed self or others [repeating]
  • Losing control of aggressive urges [checking]
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts or urges [touching]
  • Excessive religious or moral doubt [counting]
  • Forbidden thoughts [ordering/arranging]
  • A need to have things "just so" [hoarding or saving]
  • A need to tell, ask, confess [praying]
Facts and statistics

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, O.C.D. afflicts about 3.3 million adult Americans. It strikes men and women in approximately equal numbers and usually first appears in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. One-third of adults with OCD report having experienced their first symptoms as children. The course of the disease is variable – symptoms may come and go, they may ease over time, or they can grow progressively worse. Research evidence suggests that O.C.D. might run in families.

Obsessions are images, thoughts or impulses that occur repeatedly and feel out of your control. These thoughts are usually accompanied by feelings of fear, disgust, doubt, or a sensation that things have to be done in a way that is "just so." The sufferer is usually aware that their behavior is abnormal although a small percentage of sufferers may be unaware of their condition. This is particularly true if the sufferer is a child.


In order to make the obsessions go away, even if only for a temporary period of time, the O.C.D. sufferer acts on their compulsions. The sufferer repeats one or more tasks over and over again, often within strict rules (e.g. they have to scrub their hands no less than ten times or check that the door is locked every minute for a certain time period before they can go outside). Unlike compulsive drinking or gambling, O.C.D. compulsions do not give the person pleasure. Rather, the rituals are performed to obtain relief from the discomfort caused by the obsessions.

What is the treatment?

For a long time O.C.D. was considered to be untreatable. Fortunately, there is now a great deal of treatment available because the illness has become better understood over the years. The first step in treating the sufferer is to educate them and their family about O.C.D. and its treatment as a medical illness. During the last 20 years, two main forms of treatment have been developed: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (C.B.T.) and medication with a Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (S.R.I.).

Recovery and treatment prognosis

According to the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, as many as 25% of patients refuse C.B.T. However, those who complete C.B.T. report a 50% to 80% reduction in O.C.D. symptoms after 12 to 20 sessions.

Fewer than 20% of sufferers treated with medication alone end up with no O.C.D. symptoms. This is why medication is often combined with C.B.T. to get more complete and lasting results. About 20% don’t experience much improvement with the first S.R.I. and need to try another S.R.I.