What is OCD and how can it be helped?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where sufferers experience obsessive patterns of behaviour and/or repetitive thoughts that repeatedly enter their mind, making them feel out of control and mentally/physically drained. The person with OCD does not want to have these ideas and knows they are irrational, but feels compelled to act on them.

OCD symptoms include issues such as compulsive washing, cleaning, touching, checking and re-checking, hoarding, measuring, exactness and orderliness. Obsessions can be about germs, dirt or contamination, counting numbers, and even repeating tasks a certain number of times. OCD’ers can also have obsessive thoughts about doing harm to themselves or others, or an obsessive need to feel safe.

The distressing feelings that come from obsessions make people with OCD engage in specific “rituals” which provide some relief from their discomfort. These are the compulsions/ behaviours they feel driven to perform repeatedly or with specific “rules”. For example, I had one client who had to touch a particular item across the room when visiting a friend. If she didn’t, then the irrational thought in her mind was that something bad was going to happen to her family.

Other features of OCD can include avoidance; for example, a person with intrusive thoughts about harming someone may feel a need to avoid being alone with that particular person in case it triggers the distressing obsessions. They may also try to suppress their thoughts but trying not to think of a specific thought brings into play the law of reversed effect; making the thought more likely to return. Over time sufferers can become more isolated from others, performing their rituals in secret as fear of ridicule, embarrassment, rejection or guilt can be part of their thinking too. Depression commonly results due to the constant state of anxiety and the thoughts that can completely overwhelm the OCD’ers life.

Doctors often treat both the OCD and depression with the same medication (SSRI’s). Unfortunately, this only addresses the symptoms and doesn’t deal with the underlying cause or the thoughts. As our thinking affects our feelings, which affect our behaviour, there is always something you can do to address negative thoughts. Seeing a therapist who specializes in anxiety, OCD or depression can help you work through some of your thoughts and feelings. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Hypnotherapy are the most effective ways of changing irrational or negative belief thoughts.

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