At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all had to go back and check to make sure our front door is locked or that the oven is turned off after we’ve already left the house. Many of us may even practice occasional ritualistic behaviors to help us feel more grounded or relaxed. There’s nothing inherently obsessive or compulsive about such thoughts or behaviors… as long as they remain occasional.
Unfortunately, for individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) such thoughts often become increasingly obsessive and the behaviors associated with such obsessive thoughts become so compulsive that they interfere with an individual’s relationships and ability to fulfill common, everyday tasks and responsibilities.
While obsessive-compulsive disorder is not one of the most common mental health problems in the United States, it does affect a large number of individuals. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1% of the American population suffers from OCD — in other words, some two and a half million adults in the United States alone.
Fortunately, a variety of treatments exist to help people with OCD, and one of the most effective treatments available today is some form of anxiety counseling or psychotherapy.
Recognizing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Just because someone has obsessive thoughts or carries out compulsive behaviors, it does not necessarily mean they have OCD. Therefore, in order to get the help one needs, one must first receive a professional diagnosis from a qualified mental health professional.
That having been said, OCD does come with certain signs and symptoms that help you identify whether or not you or someone you know needs professional help.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person experiences:
* Obsessions — Involuntary, intrusive, seemingly uncontrollable thoughts that recur repeatedly and cause feelings of uneasiness, anxiety, or fear
* Compulsions — Repetitive, ritualized behaviors that are aimed at alleviating obsessive thoughts and reducing the anxiety and fear they cause
* A combination of such obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors
Although the vast majority of men and women with OCD exhibit symptoms of both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, some individuals experience only one or the other.
Some of the more common symptoms of OCD include:
* Paying excessive attention to superstitions
* Fixation on order, symmetry, and on everything being “just right”
* Excessive double-checking of things, such as appliances, locks, switches, etc.
* Accumulating objects that are no longer useful out of fear of not having something one might need
* Spending an excessive amount of time washing or cleaning due to fear of contamination
* Unwarranted fear of causing harm to one’s self or others
* Single-minded preoccupation with moral or religious ideas, prayer, or rituals triggered by religious fear
While most people who have OCD recognize that their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are irrational, unwarranted, and a vicious cycle that only gets worse over time, they are unable to break the repetitive, habitual patterns they’ve become accustomed to.
Just remember, countless men and women have minor obsessions or compulsions without having OCD.
If every person with irrational, strange, or unnecessary thoughts and behaviors had obsessive-compulsive disorder, the prevalence rates in the United States would be much higher than one percent!
A person is only diagnosed with OCD when obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors take up a substantial amount of time and energy, cause distress, and unduly interfere with one’s relationships and one’s life.
Effectively Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
As mentioned previously, numerous treatments options exist for people with OCD, and by far the most effective of which is some form of professional obsessive-compulsive disorder counseling or psychotherapy.
While numerous therapeutic techniques exist to help individuals cope with and overcome OCD, several types of psychotherapy have been shown to be particularly effective in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder:
* CognitiveBehavioral Therapy — Cognitivebehavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common types of anxiety therapy. CBT is a brief treatment method that helps men and women with OCD change the way the think about, perceive, and respond to obsessive thoughts and anxiety-provoking situations without resorting to compulsive behaviors.
* Exposure Therapy — As the name implies, exposure therapy gradually introduces an individual to the source of his or her obsessions while requiring the person to refrain from the compulsive behaviors that are usually used to reduce anxiety. Exposure therapy helps individuals gain an increasing sense of control over their compulsive behaviors by retraining a person’s thought process through repeated encounters.
* Psychodynamic Therapy — Psychodynamic techniques focus on helping individuals with OCD work through the unconscious forces that lead to obsessive thoughts and feelings of anxiety and fear. Psychodynamic psychotherapy is similar to other types of therapy in that it involves talking through feelings and searching for answers. Recent research has indicated that psychodynamic psychotherapy can be as effective as CBT, if not more so, when it comes to providing long-term relief and recovery from OCD and other anxiety disorders.
* Humanistic/Existential Therapy — Humanistic/existential therapy describes a variety of treatment techniques that focus on the healing power of the therapeutic relationship that is created between a client and psychotherapist. Most therapists working from humanistic/existential perspectives have unique ways of working with clients’ strengths to help clients reduce and overcome obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors by create meaningful change in the way they view themselves and the world around them.
Again, these are just some of the more common approaches to OCD counseling and psychotherapy. And, although these therapy techniques may be implemented by themselves, these techniques are not mutually exclusive and are often used in conjunction with one another in order to produce the greatest benefit.
Lastly, it should be noted that there is no “quick fix” for people suffering from OCD.
Creating positive, lasting change is rarely easy, and overcoming OCD will require your time, energy, and commitment.
However, if you’re ready to invest the time and energy required you’ll likely be amazed at how anxiety counseling and psychotherapy can help you effectively overcome OCD and move forward in life with confidence and optimism!
Tom Eggert is a licensed couples therapist in Seattle, WA, where he specializes in providing family therapy.