What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

OCD is a mental health condition characterised by a pattern of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour. The obsession is typically a fear of something unpleasant, such as getting ill, or committing violence, and the compulsive behaviour is an effort to protect against the fear. While the compulsive response to the fear provides temporary relief from feelings of anxiety, it reinforces the cyclical behaviour. OCD can be successfully treated with counselling and/or medication.


Symptoms of OCD

OCD symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some people with OCD may spend an hour or so a day engaged in obsessive-compulsive thinking and behaviour, but for others the condition can completely take over their life. Children and teens are as susceptible to OCD as adults.

Common subjects for obsessive thoughts include:

  • fear of deliberately harming yourself or others 
  • fear of harming yourself or others by mistake or accident 
  • fear of attack by outsiders
  • fear of contamination by disease, infection or an unpleasant substance
  • a need for symmetry or orderliness 

Common behaviours for those affected by OCD include:

  • cleaning and hand washing
  • checking – such as checking doors are locked, or that the gas or a tap is off
  • counting
  • ordering and arranging
  • hoarding
  • asking for reassurance
  • repeating words silently
  • extensively "overthinking" to ensure the feared consequence of the obsession does not occur 
  • thinking "neutralising" thoughts to counter the obsessive thoughts


What are the causes of OCD?

Research has not yet revealed exactly what are the causes of OCD. However,the following factors are believed to play a part:

- genetic inheritance, if there is a family member with the condition

- lack of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates body functions like mood, memory and sleep

- a history of upsetting life events, such as bereavement, abuse, neglect or bullying

- a neat and meticulous personality can sometimes develop into OCD behaviour


What can I do to help myself?

- OCD can be successfully treated, so you should see your GP to talk about your treatment options: counselling and medication (anti-depressants such as SSRIs) are both options

- talk to trusted friends and family so they understand how OCD makes you feel

- make contacts with support groups and other organisations (see below) if you feel that might help too 


How can counselling help with OCD?

People with mild and medium levels of OCD are usually treated with a short course of behavioural cognitive therapy (CBT) involving exposure and response prevention (ERP). Working with a therapist, you break down your problems into their separate parts, such as your thoughts, physical feelings and actions. ERP encourages you to face your fear and let the obsessive thoughts occur without "putting them right" which will make you feel anxious. As you repeat the exercises and become more used to them, you will find that the anxious feelings slowly start to go away. Once you have overcome one exposure task, you can move to another, until you move beyond all the things that trigger your OCD.

People with mild cases may find that up 10 sessions of counselling will be sufficient; those with more serious OCD may need up to 20.

Find a therapist for OCD




Last updated on 3 August 2015