Updated: Jul 25, 2019
WHAT OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER REALLY MEANS
OCD is one of many anxiety disorders that has innumerable misconceptions surrounding it. Some act as if OCD is synonymous with “ being obsessively clean” or “super organized”, but in reality that is an invalidation of what the disorder really is.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by excessive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions). The thoughts often have “themes” such as a fear of germs, or the need to arrange objects in a particular way. The 2.2 million Americans that suffer from the disorder can be generically categorized into 5 different types of OCD.
1. Checkers feel an urge to repeatedly check and double check things that they associate with harm or danger. The checks can range from re-locking the door, to assuring that the oven is off.
2. Washers have a fear of contamination. They usually have a cleaning or hand-washing compulsion.
3. Counters/arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. They may have superstitions about certain numbers, colors, or arrangements, and find it difficult to function unless objects are placed in a specific way.
4. Doubters/sinners are afraid that if everything isn’t perfect or done in some particular way, something terrible will happen or they will be punished.
5. Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they don’t need or use.
There exists many treatments and coping mechanisms to aid people that suffer from Obsessive Compulsive disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments and involves two components:
1. Exposure and response prevention: Exposure and response prevention intentionally expose the patient to the source of their obsession. They are trained to refrain from the compulsive behaviors that would ease them of their anxiety. In theory, this method will slowly eliminate their compulsive response, and thus their anxiety tied to the obsession.
2. Cognitive therapy: Cognitive therapy focuses on the catastrophic thoughts and an exaggerated sense of responsibility you feel. A big part of cognitive therapy for OCD is teaching you healthy and effective ways of responding to obsessive thoughts, without resorting to compulsive behavior. Other OCD treatments can include medications, family therapy, and/or group therapy.
Unfortunately, the meaning of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has been stigmatized and distorted. Often times, it is just categorized as a personality trait, hence often goes untreated. However, imaging studies have shown structural differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of the brain in patients with OCD. Moreover, twins and first-degree relatives’ studies have shown a higher heritability rate than that of other disorders. The compulsions are not something that can be turned on or off, and those who have OCD are certainly not just “so OCD” about something. They are diagnosable individuals who may need therapy and/or medication to cope with everyday life.
If you or someone you know suffers from OCD, contact a medical expert to be more informed, and if recommended, follow the appropriate proposed treatment. Many individuals live with OCD, and it is wiser to identify it early in order to better manage it.