Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most commonly misunderstood mental health conditions to date. It is characterized by a series of reoccurring thoughts and/or visual images that can often result in a pervasive need to engage in repetitive behaviors (compulsions) (National Institute of Mental Health, 2022). These obsessions and compulsions can interfere with day-to-day activities and can potentially create a high degree of emotional and physical distress if left untreated (NIMH, 2022).
The expression, “I have OCD” is often used loosely to explain routine habits that may not cause disruptions to your lifestyle or result in significant emotional or physical distress. The habit or routine in question may be a positive characteristic that helps in how you maintain organization and structure in your daily life. Here are some common misconceptions about OCD:
If you are someone that is neat and prefers to keep an orderly and clean living or workspace because you simply enjoy the act of doing so. This does not imply that if you didn’t, your mind would be flooded with a series of repeated thoughts of, “germs are taking over my bathroom”. Similarly, if the sensation of anxious distress consumes you physically, then, you may not have OCD. Individuals with OCD often engage in excessive cleaning and organizing of items in a distinct fashion and manner. This often disrupts other areas of their lives, such as missing an important work meeting to clean an area around their bathroom multiple times. They often experience a high degree of anxiety, even panic, if they are unable to clean or organize items in the desired fashion. So simply being a “neat freak” doesn’t mean you have OCD.
Some believe that the obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD are learned. For example, I have had parents share that their child’s obsession to wash their hands three times after every meal, was because they observed them washing their hands “excessively” after meals. When I’d ask, what do you mean by excessively? Most parents often provided typical or common responses, like, “Once after every meal.” Upon further investigation, I have often found a series of obsessive fear-based thoughts driving the child’s compulsive behavior, an important criterion that is often absent for the parent.
Truth is, the causes of OCD are unknown. However, research suggests there are certain genetic, environmental, and neurological risk factors associated with the onset of the condition (NIMH, 2022). Read more
Although the causes of OCD are unknown, there are various treatment options available to help with better managing the symptoms of this condition (NIMH, 2022). One of the most effective forms of treatment that I have discovered in my practice is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is considered by most researchers in the field as a proven or evidenced-based approach to treating OCD symptoms (FOA, 2010). CBT interventions target the irrational thoughts or beliefs (obsessions) responsible for the compulsive behaviors. Recent studies show that mindfulness techniques, or mindfulness-based CBT, are also efficacious at reducing symptoms of distress associated with OCD (Fairfax, 2018). It is important to know that there is help in overcoming this condition, the key is to be willing to reach out.
OCD is a serious condition that requires professional help to overcome. If you or anyone you know demonstrates any signs of OCD, I encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional or your physician for help.