Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is noticed by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions – for example:

  • cleaning
  • counting
  • checking
  • hoarding..

As an anxiety disorder it is a disabling condition that corrodes throughout a person’s life.

The person who suffers from OCD becomes trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviours that are senseless and distressing but extremely difficult to overcome.

OCD occurs in a spectrum from mild to severe, but if severe and left untreated, can destroy a person’s capacity to function at work, at school, or even in the home.


The obsessions are unwanted ideas or impulses that repeatedly well up in the mind of the person with OCD.

Persistent fears that harm may come to self or a loved one, an unreasonable concern with becoming contaminated, or an excessive need to do things correctly or perfectly, are common.

Again and again, the person experiences disturbing, intrusive thoughts like:

“My hands may be contaminated–I must wash them”;


“I may have left the gas on”;


“I am going to injure my child.”

These thoughts are involuntary, intrusive, unpleasant, and produce a high degree of anxiety. Sometimes the obsessions are of a violent or a sexual nature, or concern illness.


In response to their obsessions, most people with OCD resort to repetitive behaviours called compulsions.

The most common of these are washing and checking.

Other compulsive behaviours include counting (often while performing another compulsive action such as hand washing), repeatinghoarding, and endlessly rearranging objects in an effort to keep them in precise alignment with each other.

Mental problems, such as mentally repeating phraseslist-making, or checking are also common.


These behaviours generally are intended to ward off harm to the person with OCD or others.

Some people with OCD have regimented rituals while others have rituals that are complex and changing. Performing rituals may give the person with OCD some relief from anxiety, but it is only temporary.

How can CBT Help?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is very useful in treating anxiety disorders. The cognitive part helps people change the thinking patterns that support their fears, and the behavioural part helps people change the way they react to anxiety-provoking situations.

People with OCD who fear dirt and germs are encouraged to get their hands dirty and wait increasing amounts of time before washing them. The therapist helps the person cope with the anxiety that waiting produces; after the exercise has been repeated a number of times, the anxiety diminishes.

CBT therapists also teach deep breathing and other types of exercises to relieve anxiety and encourage relaxation.

The CBT Therapy

CBT is undertaken when people decide they are ready for it and with their permission and cooperation. To be effective, the therapy must be directed at the person’s specific anxieties and must be tailored to their needs. There are no side effects other than the discomfort of temporarily increased anxiety.

CBT or behavioural therapy often lasts about 12 weeks. It may be conducted individually or with a group of people who have similar problems. There is some evidence that the benefits of CBT last longer than those of medication for people with panic disorder and the same may be true for OCD, PTSD, and social phobia.

If a disorder recurs at a later date, the same therapy can be used to treat it successfully a second time.

Medication can be combined with psychotherapy for specific anxiety disorders, and this is the best treatment approach for many people.