What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

By: Chris Anderson Psy.D.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves two components: obsessions and compulsions. OCD usually begins with obsessions, which are unwanted ideas and beliefs that recur repetitiously in the mind. Common examples include fear of contamination by germs or believing things have to be done in a certain number or something bad will happen. These obsessions eventually evolve into compulsions which are repetitive behaviors or rituals that are intended to reduce the anxiety produced by the obsession such as excessive handwashing to prevent germ contamination or counting to prevent “something bad” from happening. The compulsion usually provides only temporary relief until the obsessive thoughts return.

Around two percent of the population suffer from OCD which tends to be a chronic condition. Onset is usually in adolescence to young adulthood. It is not uncommon for many people to have some obsessive-compulsive traits such as occasional checking behavior or compulsive organization. If someone is spending more than 30 minutes per day engaged in compulsive behaviors it will be classified as OCD. The other chief criterion for OCD is that it interferes with functioning at work, school, home, or relationships.

Causes of OCD

Most research suggests that there is often a biological predisposition that comes together with faulty thought patterns, usually activated by periods of extended and heightened stress levels. Feelings of increased responsibility can drive stress levels up and exacerbate anxiety, setting the stage for the development of OCD. This conclusion has some support by case studies showing a reduction in OCD symptoms in hospital and lab settings thought to occur from a reduction in perceived responsibility and stress. Because OCD is most responsive to SSRI medication it is believed there is a causal role in serotonin dysregulation. In some rare causes, OCD has emerged following complications from the infection that causes strep throat. Researchers are still looking for the causal link, but it is believed it may stem from something triggered in the immune response to the infection.

How is OCD Treated?

OCD is typically treated with medication or therapy, but studies show a combination of both has the greatest efficacy and outcomes. As noted above SSRIs are the drug of choice for OCD and specifically, Prozac, Luvox, and Paxil have been designated and approved treatment for OCD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tends to focus on challenging and dismantling the irrational beliefs that makeup obsessions. The other type of therapy used for OCD is a behavioral treatment known as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). This technique involves safely and systematically exposing the person to their feared stimuli and preventing compulsive behavior or ritual. It is believed that prevention of compulsions in conjunction with the feared obsession not occurring helps to break down the feared obsession.

If you are struggling with OCD, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule a consultation with one of our psychologists or psychiatrists so we can help discuss treatment options. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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