Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder at a Glance

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistWhat was once thought to be a rare mental disorder is now known to be quite common. Approximately 2.3% of the population or 3.3 million people between ages 18- 54 suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which outranks mental disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or panic disorder. Help is readily available for those facing this disorder to live a healthy, balanced life.

Chances are that you have heard about or know someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD manifests itself in so many different ways and varies from person to person. Here is the basic information of what obsessive-compulsive disorder is, how it manifests itself, who and when it affects, and how it can be treated.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable and recurring thoughts and/or behaviors that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over. This mental health disorder is manifested by a swinging pendulum between obsessions and compulsions. The International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation defines the two sides as the following:

  1. Obsessions: Unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings.
  2. Compulsions: Behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress. These are repetitive behaviors or thoughts that a person uses with the intention of neutralizing, counteracting, or making their obsessions go away. People with OCD realize this is only a temporary solution but without a better way to cope they rely on the compulsion as a temporary escape. (Compulsions can also include avoiding situations that trigger obsessions.)

Most people have obsessive or compulsive thoughts and/or behaviors at some point in their lives, but that does not mean OCD is present. There has been some confusion about the difference between obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). While there appears to be some overlap between these two disorders, the biggest difference between OCD and OCPD is the presence of true obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions and compulsions are not present in OCPD; rather, OCPD is the ongoing presence of an obsessive personality trait–which, summed up simply, is a long-enduring personality trait commonly manifested through perfectionism (ie. preoccupation in details, inflexibility to schedules, being rule-bound, or needing order and symmetry). The way to distinguish OCD from this personality trait is that, with OCD, the cycle of obsessions and compulsions will become so extreme that it will consume significant amounts of time and will get in the way of daily activities that the person values.

The following are a few examples of obsessive behaviors:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Unwanted forbidden or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, and harm
  • Aggressive thoughts towards others or self
  • Having things symmetrical or in a perfect order

Here are a few examples of compulsive behavior:

  • Excessive cleaning and/or handwashing
  • Ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way
  • Repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking to see if the door is locked or that the oven is off
  • Compulsive counting

The compulsive behaviors of OCD often follow the obsessive thoughts. It is very important to note that not all rituals or habits are compulsions. Everyone double checks things sometimes–like making sure you turned the oven off or locked your car door. OCD is much more than that, though. A person with OCD generally cannot control his or her thoughts or behaviors, spends at least one hour a day on these thoughts/behaviors, does not get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals (but may feel brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause), and experiences significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts or behaviors. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is disruptive to normal life patterns.

OCD does not discriminate; it is found in all ethnic groups and both men and women can be diagnosed with the disorder, although in children OCD is more prevalent in boys. Typically emergence or evidence of obsessive-compulsive behavior occurs around the age of six (the linguistic abilities of the child make it easier to find out the existence of OCD). The age of onset is typically reported around ages 6-15 for males, and ages 20-29 for females. Additionally, it has been found that many patients with OCD have other psychiatric comorbid (co-occurring or additional) disorders, such as: Mood and anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders (especially hypochondriasis and body dysmorphic disorder), eating disorders, impulse control disorders (especially kleptomania and trichotillomania), attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, tic disorder, suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is treatable. Symptoms may ebb and flow depending on life stressors, but, if left untreated, they can greatly worsen and impact all areas of life with time. As mentioned above, the compulsive behaviors of OCD often follow the obsessive thoughts. This is why the focus of therapy is to address and distinguish the power of the obsessive thoughts, thus eliminating the need for the behaviors. Treatment approaches also focus on recognizing what triggers the behavior or thought and then making a plan for how to avoid and/or confront said triggers. This will lead to increased self-awareness and control, and freedom from the enslavement of obsessive-compulsive behaviors. In some cases, medical attention may be necessary.

If you or a loved one is suffering from OCD, now is the time to seek help and treatment from a trained, qualified counselor. I have helped many patients make individualized plans to avoid and overcome their obsessive-compulsive behaviors and I can help you, too. Contact me today to schedule your first session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness”
International OCD Foundation: “What is OCD?”
MedScape: “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder”
National Institute on Mental Health: “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder”
Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: “Some OCD Facts and Figures”
Very Well: “OCD vs. Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder”
Wikipedia: “Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder”

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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.