Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

What are Obsessions and Compulsions?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is often the subject of jokes and parodies, but despite the stereotypes, genuine OCD is no laughing matter. OCD is a biologically-based anxiety disorder that often begins in childhood and may run in families. OCD is characterized by obsessions, compulsions, or both. Obsessions are unwanted thoughts or images that repetitively intrude into awareness, while compulsions are seemingly unstoppable repetitive habits or behaviors, in which an individual engages in order to reduce discomfort and anxiety. Both the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are usually recognized as unrealistic or irrational by OCD sufferers, but typically, they feel powerless to stop either.

Symptoms of OCD

Although the types of thoughts and behaviors often vary significantly from person to person, some patterns are common. For example, OCD sufferers may engage in repetitive "checking". This may take the form of checking to make sure doors are locked, appliances are turned off, keys are in place and the like. Some individuals may compulsively avoid exposure to germs by repetitive cleaning or handwashing. Some may have elaborate rituals associated with everyday activities, such as dressing or undressing in a certain specified order, entering or leaving their house or room in a certain way, attempting to repeat (or avoid repeating) a given action or thought a certain number of times for luck, etc.. Sometimes, behaviors associated with other disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and trichotillomania (hair-pulling, eyelash pulling) include obsessive-compulsive qualities.

It is very important to note that many people engage in some of these behaviors and thinking patterns, some of the time, without having OCD. For example, it is normal and appropriate to make certain a door is locked for safety, or to wash one’s hands after exposure to germs. Displaying a certain degree of neatness and attention to detail is considered appropriate and is even expected as a sign of emerging maturity as children mature developmentally. Likewise, everyone also has typical ways of doing routine tasks. It is only when thoughts and behaviors are excessively repetitive and/or begin to interfere, rather than assist, in daily living that OCD is suspected. Thus, people with OCD often spent vast amounts of time engaging in ritualistic and/or avoidance behavior to the point that they actually neglect important areas of their lives. They may spend so much time attending to personal hygiene that they never make it to class. They may be so worried about potential germs or contamination that they may avoid sharing mealtime with friends in the dining hall. They may also avoid socializing or participating in activities because of shame and fear that their OCD will be detected by others.

Getting Help

If you suspect that you or someone you know, suffers from OCD, consider a consultation with a mental health professional. OCD is an anxiety disorder that can be helped, through the use of counseling, behavioral therapy, and/or medication. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is staffed by licensed mental health professionals who are experienced in helping those with OCD and who will assist in assessing your situation and recommending options for intervention. These services, including short-term individual counseling are confidential, and available free-of-charge, on a time-limited basis to all full-time, degree-seeking students. If you would like more information on these or other mental health services, call CAPS at 654-1053, Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM through 5:00 PM.