What is OCD?

What is OCDObsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and behaviours (compulsions). OCD is the fourth most common mental disorder, and is diagnosed nearly as often as asthma and diabetes. In Brisbane, an estimated 55, 500 people have OCD.

What are obsessions?

Obsessions are thoughts, urges or images which come into your head and make you feel anxious because these thoughts are “strange and do not make sense”. They are upsetting and confusing (e.g what is real versus imaginary?). Sometimes there is a link between the obsessive thought and your life stage e.g. obsessive thoughts about harming your baby if you are a new mother or obsessive fears about cheating on your husband if you are newly married. However often there is no logical pairing and these thoughts appear to come from “left field”.

What are compulsions?

Compulsions are behaviours or acts designed to remove/neutralize the anxiety caused by the obsessive thoughts. They can be overt “outside” behaviours, like ordering or pointing, or they can be covert “inside” behaviours, like counting or repeating. For example, a person may feel the need to continue pointing at a door handle until they ‘feel’ like it is locked. Conversely, while some compulsions are performed until the person feels “just right” other compulsions are carried out in “sets”. In my practice I have found that the most common sets are in 3’s. Compulsions trick a person into believing rituals reduce the anxiety – this is wrong, they feed it!

Common Obsessions and Compulsions

Sometimes obsessions are intuitively linked with compulsions (e.g contamination obsessions and cleaning compulsions), but often as the disorder progresses the symptoms morph and they can be independent of each other (e.g obsession that parents will have a car accident followed by the compulsion to open and close the curtains). As OCD follows the developmental trajectory (lifespan) the symptoms change according to each developmental stage (refer to adolescent sections).

Disclaimer: The information on this page is very general and should not be seen as diagnosis or treatment advice. You should consult a psychologist or other qualified health professional for advice on your specific problems and the best form of treatment for you.

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