Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

By PCS - 02/19/2016


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by compulsive behaviors that are hard to understand at times. In OCD, people attempt to avoid disturbing thoughts that are difficult to stop (obsessions) by doing compulsive behaviors that don’t always appear to make a lot of sense.

Obsessions may include:

  • Fears that you will be harmed or considered flawed in some important way,
  • Fears that someone else will be harmed by you,
  • Worries about germs, pollution or contaminants,
  • Worries about you or someone you love contracting diseases

Compulsions may include:

  • Checking behaviors,
  • Compulsive washing or cleaning,
  • Extreme orderliness,
  • Driving rituals,
  • Avoiding situations or people

While at times these compulsive behaviors can lead to positive outcomes, such as very clean houses or perfectionistic work behaviors, many of the compulsive behaviors or “rituals” are difficult to understand by even those who are doing them. Friends and family often think a person with OCD should just “stop” doing the rituals. However, much evidence suggests that OCD does not just go away over time, despite the best intentions of people struggling with the disorder. Often people with the disorder report feeling they can’t imagine stopping the behaviors and feeling hopeless that anyone will be able to help them.

Unfortunately, people with OCD may be struggling unnecessarily. The good news is that behavioral and psychoactive (e.g., SSRIs) treatments can be extremely helpful. In fact, behavioral treatments, such as exposure therapy with response prevention (ET/RP), has been shown in research to work for about 75% of the people who complete it. Also, people who complete the treatment, report a strong reduction in the compulsions and obsessions they experience. ET/RP involves an intensive outpatient treatment model that requires a strong commitment by the participants but can be completed in about 4 weeks. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) may also be incorporated into the treatment of OCD.

Trichotillomania is a disorder that most traditionally involves pulling the hair from one’s body (e.g., eyebrows, arms, head), often during times of stress and anxiety. In addition to hair pulling, some people with Trichotillomania symptoms pick their skin compulsively. While hair pulling and skin picking may seem difficult to understand, ET/RP treatment strategies can also be helpful in managing this disorder.

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