Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is a mental health disorder in which a person fixates so much on certain things or tasks that it interferes with their ability to live a normal life.

OCD – The Myths

The general public and the media have perpetuated some myths about OCD. Many believe, for example, that someone with OCD is just obsessively clean or neat. Just being fastidious about cleanliness does not mean someone has this mental health disorder. OCD interferes with one’s ability to conduct one’s life; a person with OCD would be so fixated on cleaning that they might miss work or school.

When people spread myths about a disorder that satirize or mischaracterize it, this can make it harder for people with the disorder to seek help. Understanding the reality of OCD, on the other hand, can help patients and their loved ones.

Getting an OCD Diagnosis

As stated above, OCD symptoms must interfere with someone’s ability to go about their daily life in order to qualify that person for a diagnosis. Fixated behaviors also need to appear for at least one hour every day and cause stress for the patient. OCD symptoms come with stress because the individual believes that they may meet with disaster if they do not perform the right rituals. A mental health professional is the only person who can provide a diagnosis for OCD.

Rituals, Compulsions, and Fixations in OCD

Those with OCD are plagued by two things: compulsive behaviors and obsessive thinking.

The obsessive thinking associated with OCD involves fixating on thoughts that might not even occur to someone without the disorder. For example, a person without OCD would never think twice about turning a light on or off. The person with OCD, on the other hand, might fixate on the fact that countless hands have touched that switch and left germs behind. These fixated thoughts then prevent the person from being able to turn the switch on or off.

Compulsive behaviors in OCD stem from this obsessive thinking. So that the patient in our example above can turn on the light, they might perform a complex ritual whereby they make the light switch “safer” for them. While these behaviors are sometimes satirized in the media, they are very serious to the OCD sufferer and require compassionate treatment.

Symptoms of OCD

  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Ritualized behaviors
  • Feeling guilty about compulsive behaviors
  • Hoarding
  • Panic attacks
  • Avoiding triggers
  • Nightmares

Treating OCD

When a patient consults with a mental health professional about treating OCD, the MHP will develop a system of intervention that might include several things. Patients may benefit from one or several of the following interventions:

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

ERP involves talk therapy along with slow and systematic exposure to triggers of the patient’s OCD. The therapist may ask the patient to change or reduce a ritual, for example. The pair would then discuss what happened, striving to reinforce in the patient that no disaster had resulted from the reduction or elimination of the ritual.

Sometimes medication is necessary, especially to ameliorate stress during exposure therapy. Medications used for OCD include:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Paxil