Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
What’s OCD? It stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Most of us have had the urge to check if the back door is locked before leaving home, perhaps even
have gone back to check, that’s not OCD. OCD is a type of anxiety that is very distressing or
disturbing to the sufferer, and can cause significant disruption to a person’s life.
What characterises OCD is the amount of obsessions and compulsions. These obsessions just keep
occurring – thoughts, imagery, doubts, impulses, and the like and so do the compulsions – checking,
washing, counting, requesting reassurance, praying, repeating words silently, straightening of objects
and so on.
The obsessions part of OCD is the repeated thoughts that trigger high anxiety and distress. In order
to reduce the anxiety and distress, acts are performed that become so frequent they are often called
rituals – like checking, counting, praying, etc. For example, a person with OCD might have thoughts
about becoming sick if they touch surfaces that are perceived as dirty and contaminated with germs
(obsession). To reduce their distress and anxiety they wash their hands (compulsion).
Sounds reasonable, but what makes it OCD? The time spent doing this and if the worrying and
behaviour are affecting other parts of life (relationships, work, etc).
Some common obsessions include:
Thoughts about contamination (e.g. “Will I catch the flu from shaking hands?”).
Repeated doubts about tasks (e.g. “Did I remember to lock the door? Or did I turn off the
A need for order and exactness (e.g. anxiety occurs if pantry items are not lined up, or
objects are not straightened or lined up or seem untidy).
Aggressive impulses (e.g. intrusive thoughts of killing or hurting a family member, self or
other person). These thoughts are frightening to the person and just seem to pop into the
Sexual imagery. Intrusive sexual images or thoughts.
People with OCD usually attempt to ignore or suppress their anxious thoughts and impulses. Then
they try to stop them with a compulsion. Compulsions are often observable, repetitive behaviours
and/or sometimes unseen mental acts (prayer) which are done to prevent or reduce the anxiety and
distress of obsessions.
Some compulsive behaviours include:
Ordering for symmetry or exactness
Stepping over cracks in the footpath
Doing something a certain number of times – lucky/ important numbers. (e.g. stirring
coffee exactly 8 times clockwise, then tapping the spoon 8 times)
Requesting or demanding reassurance from other people (e.g. “Did I lock the door?”)
Hoarding, saving or collecting objects or money.
Some compulsive mental rituals include:
• Repeating words or phrases silently
Logic doesn’t work with OCD, therefore it cannot simply be thought or explained away. Often the
person with OCD already knows what they are doing is illogical but are compelled to do it anyway.
Treatment of OCD depends where on the ‘volume switch’ you are. For very severe OCD a combination
of medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques maybe required. For other levels of OCD
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy alone is usually quite effective.
I must also point out that there are other disorders that present very similarly to OCD. So please
consider the above information as just a general discussion of the condition and not as a diagnostic
tool for OCD.
Remember, if you think OCD or anything else is affecting other areas of your life then it is worth