Occasionally most of us have anxious thoughts, like “did I lock the door?”, often leading us to check the door is locked. Approximately nine out of ten people also experience intrusive thoughts or images that are disturbing to them (e.g. “what if a loved one has a car accident?”). However, some people experience thoughts, images or impulses more frequently that are accompanied by distress. Such distress can cause compulsions – repetitive behaviours or mental acts – that can also be caused by rigid rules or unrelated distress. The presence of Obsessions or Compulsions is called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
There are several well-researched treatments that are effective in treating OCD, including: Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Self-Help and medication.
We are experienced and trained in treating psychological difficulties like OCD. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.
Because compulsions tend to give us a sense of relief, this means we are more likely to repeat the compulsion the next time we’re distressed. Unfortunately the relief we get from engaging in compulsions tends to be short-lived, and actually reinforces the idea that our intrusive thoughts are dangerous and should be avoided – thus leading to a vicious cycle of intrusive thoughts and compulsions. Compulsions also can tend to get stronger when we are under a lot of stress in our lives more broadly.
Historically in psychological communities, OCD has tended to be classified under the heading of anxiety disorders. However, in more recent years OCD has been separated out into it’s own category of obsessive compulsive and related disorders. Whilst this is a topic of ongoing debate, it is fair to say that OCD and Anxiety share many features including the experience of persistent and distressing thoughts. However, OCD differs from anxiety in that it also involves persistent attempts to control or avoid these distressing thoughts with rituals or compulsions. A diagnosis of OCD does not require a diagnosis of Anxiety, and vice versa, but it is also possible to have both OCD and Anxiety at once.
Although the exact cause of OCD is unknown, like other mental illnesses it is believed that OCD likely develops from a combination of factors including genetics (ie. it runs in your family), stressful experiences or life changes, ongoing stress and anxiety, and temperament, among other things. Research has also found that certain areas of the brain function differently in people with OCD, compared to people with OCD, pointing to a possible neurological basis also. Fortunately, brain imaging studies have also shown that effective OCD treatment can actually change the way our brain works and make it easier for us to let go of intrusive thoughts without having to avoid or neutralise them.
Firstly, learn about OCD – a good place to start is the International OCD Foundation website, which has information about how OCD works and how to support people with OCD. If possible, support the person with OCD in accessing appropriate treatment, and ask them how you can help in the treatment process. Finally, be patient and understanding, and act normally around them! People with OCD are usually aware that their behaviours may not make sense, and might feel embarrassed about their rituals and compulsions. Do what you do best by being a good friend and offering support when and where you feel comfortable. And of course, when caring for others, make sure to look after your own mental health too.