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Welcome to our OCD topic center. As the name suggests, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (or OCD), is a condition characterized by the presence of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive, repetitive and often overwhelming thoughts, ideas, images or impulses that a person becomes inadvertently fixated upon. Common examples of obsessions reflect fears of contamination or vulnerability. Impulses to wash hands repeatedly, or check to see whether a door is locked, or whether a stove is turned off are good examples. Although persons with OCD often intellectually know that their obsessive worries are not founded in reality, this insight doesn’t change the compelling and dangerous emotions that surround obsessions as they are experienced.

OCD is considered to be an anxiety disorder. Obsessive thoughts feelings, images or impulses easily become a source of significant distress and anxiety. People with OCD often act out their obsessive impulses in an attempt to lessen some of their anxiety. ‘Acted out’ obsessions are known as compulsions. Common examples of compulsions are checking locks and appliances, washing hands, and cleaning, straightening or ordering things.

As an example, a person experiencing the obsessive thought that his front door is unlocked, may also experience an undeniable fear that people will enter his home through the open door and steal, damage or otherwise violate his goods. He compulsively acts on his fear by checking to see that his door is locked. Turning away from the door, his obsessions overwhelm him again; he is again unsure whether he has locked it properly and turns to check it again. In cases of full-blown OCD this man may ‘need’ to check the door repeatedly for over an hour before he is free enough from his obsessive fears to walk away.

Help is available for OCD in the form of medication and specific forms of psychotherapy (e.g., Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for OCD). Consultation with a psychiatrist and a psychologist or social worker with expertise in CBT are recommended first steps.

A few other notes are relevant:

Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that worsen during times of stress are quite normally experienced by many people, and are not necessarily a sign of OCD. The tendency to become obsessed with ideas or to compulsively pursue organization and ordering tasks are valued personality features in a variety of detail-oriented fields, including accounting, computer programming and scientific research. True OCD is an extreme condition diagnosed only when obsessions and compulsions cause significant impairment in a person’s ability to work or meet other important responsibilities (such as when a person is unable to get to work on time because she is spending over an hour checking to see that her door is locked).

OCD should not be confused with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD; which is discussed in greater detail in our personality disorders topic area). OCPD is diagnosed to describe pervasive and life-long perfectionist, puritanical and rigidly controlling personality traits that some people demonstrate. The diagnosis of OCPD doesn’t require the presence of obsessions and compulsions (as does OCD).

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