Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a neurologically based disorder that affects men, women, older adults, and children alike. Most people on occasion have double and triple-checked things around the house, like checking to make sure the iron or oven has been turned off before leaving the house. However, someone with OCD feels the need to repeatedly check things or perform certain routines and rituals over and over before going about their day. Additionally, these people experience frequent upsetting thoughts (such as violent, pornographic images) called “obsessions,” which cause an overwhelming urge and compulsion to repeat certain behaviors, or “compulsions,” to attempt to control the obsessions and soothe the inner turmoil. Unfortunately, people with OCD are unable to control these obsessions and compulsions, no matter how illogical or bizarre they may be. In fact, most of the time, these obsessions and compulsions end up controlling the child, teen, adult, or older adult who is affected.
A person who has OCD may try and ignore their compulsions and obsessions. However, ignoring these impulses and obsessions only serves to increase the amount of stress and anxiety these people experience. The intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors consume most of a person’s time, often becoming a routine – progressing from several times a week, to several times a day, then several times an hour. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a life-long mental disorder that can become so severe and time-consuming that it becomes disabling and causes tremendous suffering for children, teens, adults and older adults diagnosed with this disorder.
While most adults and older adults who have obsessive-compulsive disorder are able to recognize that these obsessions and compulsions don’t make sense, children with OCD may have no idea what is wrong. People with OCD often feel embarrassed and ashamed of their illness and go to great lengths to conceal their symptoms, hiding them from family and friends for years. While there is no cure, treatment for OCD can help to manage symptoms, allowing an individual to have a pleasant social life, raise a family, and be successful at work.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), OCD is one of the top 20 causes of illness-related disability for individuals between the ages of 15 and 44 years of age worldwide. In the United States, it’s estimated that about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children have obsessive-compulsive disorder. While the typical age of onset for OCD is 19.5 years, this disorder can impact children, adolescents, and older adults as well.
Causes and risk factors for OCD
While the exact causes for obsessive-compulsive disorder are unknown, current research has led to the development of a number of different hypotheses. Some of the most common theories for why a person may develop OCD include:
Genetic: Like other mental illnesses, obsessive-compulsive disorder has been known to run in families. While this disorder is likely passed down through genetics, specific genes responsible for OCD have yet to be identified. Having a parent or other family members with OCD can increase a person’s risk for developing obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Physical: Research has indicated that several parts of the brain are involved in fear and anxiety and when there are disruptions in these areas of the brain it may lead to the development of OCD. Additionally, it may be the result of changes in the body’s own natural chemistry or brain functions.
Environmental: OCD is occasionally triggered by stressful life events, especially if someone reacts strongly to a life event that triggers intrusive thoughts, emotional distress, and rituals characteristic of OCD.
- Male child
- Female adults
Signs and symptoms of OCD
Most individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder have both obsessions and compulsions, however it is not uncommon for individuals to experience only one or the other. Symptoms of OCD usually begin gradually and will vary in severity throughout a person’s life, tending to be worse during times of higher stress. The symptoms for this disorder are broken down into two categories and are as follows:
Obsessive thoughts: These obsession symptoms typically intrude other thoughts when you’re trying to do or think about other things and may include:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt
- Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts
- Fear of having a serious illness
- Fear of causing harm to yourself or others
- Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
- Fear of losing or not having things you may need
- Needing order and symmetry
- Have superstitions
Compulsive behaviors: These compulsive symptoms are aimed to control the anxiety and stress about obsessive thoughts. These compulsions aren’t usually rationally connected to preventing the feared event.
- Excessive double and triple-checking of things
- Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or other senseless acts to reduce anxiety
- Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they are okay
- Spend a lot of time cleaning or washing
- Ordering things “just so”
- Accumulating piles of useless junk
- Asking for reassurance
- Avoiding places or situations
- Checking doors repeatedly to ensure they are locked
- Checking stoves and outlets to ensure they’re off and things are unplugged
- Silently praying, saying a word, or phrase over and over
- Engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear
- Arranging books or other items to face a certain way
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of helplessness
- Feeling powerless over compulsions
- Shame about obsessions and compulsions
- Mood swings
Effects of OCD
The long-term effects and consequences of untreated or undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder can be devastating for the individual struggling with the disorder. These effects may include:
- Inability to work or attend school
- Lack of involvement in social activities
- Troubled relationships
- Overall poor quality of life
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Substance abuse
- Contact dermatitis from frequent handwashing
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Types of OCD treatment
The main goal for your treatment will be to reduce symptom severity and help you reach your maximum level of functioning. You will complete a comprehensive assessment, which will allow us to gain better insight into your presenting concerns. From that assessment, we will compile all of your information to create a personalized treatment plan that will best address your needs.
Individual therapy: During individual therapy sessions, you will work one-on-one with a therapist in a confidential setting where you can process through the challenges you’re facing and learn better ways of coping with and managing your symptoms.
Group therapy: Group therapy sessions can be extremely helpful for those struggling with mental illnesses, including OCD, as oftentimes these individuals feel isolated and alone. Interacting with other individuals can allow you to work on regaining your social skills, while also coming to understand that you are not alone in your struggles. Groups focus on topics such as coping skills, life skills, or general mental health education.
Family therapy: Family involvement can be a large part of the healing process, especially for those who have been diagnosed with OCD in addition to another mental illness. Many times, this disorder can cause frustration and disruption in the family unit. Family therapy can help you all work together to resolve any presenting issues and can teach all family members how to be more supportive to one another.
We have learned that combining traditional therapeutic techniques with experiential methods can truly help heal the whole person, which is why we offer a number of options for experiential therapy.
Helping a loved one get treatment for OCD
Living with a loved one who has OCD can be both frustrating and exhausting. It is not uncommon for family members and friends to become involved in some of the rituals that their loved one engages in, and, in some circumstances, they may even have to take care of daily activities that their loved one is unable to do as a result of his or her OCD symptoms. Unfortunately, this can lead to distress and disruption among family members. Here are some things that you, as a concerned friend or family member, can do to help your loved one through this difficult time:
- Educate yourself about OCD: When you are more informed about this disorder, it is easier to provide your loved one with support.
- Offer support and understanding: Make sure that you clearly communicate with your loved one that you know the difference between his or her OCD symptoms and who he or she is as a person. This will help lessen your loved one’s feelings of guilt and shame. Encourage your loved one to talk about the disorder and try to be patient with him or her while keeping a non-judgmental attitude.
- Encourage your loved one to get professional help: Help your loved one locate a therapist and offer to get involved in the treatment process.
- Don’t reinforce obsessive-compulsive behaviors: Do not get involved in your loved one’s OCD behaviors. While it may seem like helping your loved one is the only way to reduce his or her frustration, it is only promoting reliance on you and supporting the negative behaviors themselves.
- Get help for yourself: Over time, having a loved one who is dealing with the symptoms of OCD and additional mental illness symptoms can wear on you, so it is important for you to maintain your connections and support among your extended family and friends. If needed, seek out a counselor or other community supports where you can process your emotions about the OCD.
There are many resources available that can help you to further understand this disorder and give you more specific details on what you can do to help your loved one.