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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
On this page: What
is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? | Why
does Obsessive Compulsive Disorder develop? | What
is the impact of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? | How
do you treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is an anxiety disorder
the essential feature of which is recurrent obsessions or compulsions
that are either time consuming, that is they take more than one
hour per day, or they cause significant distress or impairment.
A person with OCD at some point will have recognised that they obsessions
or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.
Obsessions are persistent, intrusive, unwanted thoughts that the
person is unable to control. The thoughts are distressing and uncomfortable.
Compulsions are persistent needs or urges to perform behaviours
to reduce the anxiety or discomfort caused by the obsession.
Sometimes people with OCD don’t experience compulsions. For
these people they experience obsessional thoughts which cause anxiety,
and they engage in mental rituals to reduce anxiety.
Why does Obsessive Compulsive Disorder develop?
Unfortunately no one is certain what causes OCD. There are a number
of theories, including that people with OCD have a deficiency of
serotonin which is a chemical in the brain, that OCD is genetic
and is passed on through families, and that people with OCD have
learnt the behaviours. There is no research to definitively support
any of these theories, but that does not mean that there aren’t
effective treatments for OCD.
What is the impact of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be a crippling disorder severely
limiting a person’s ability to function. As with other anxiety
disorders it is associated with depression. Further, people with
OCD can develop other anxiety disorders.
How do you treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Research suggests that Behaviour Therapy is most useful for addressing
the problems associated with OCD. Essentially the treatment involves
exposure to the triggers that normally cause a person to ritualise,
whether that be situations or thoughts, but preventing the ritualising.
This is called exposure and response prevention. The components
of this work include:
- Thoroughly assessing a person’s difficulties, understanding
what causes the urge to perform rituals or compulsive behaviours.
- Explaining the exposure and response prevention program to the
client, and that the work is done very gently and gradually.
- Designing a hierarchy of stimuli, that is difficult situations
or thoughts, to work through according to their level of difficulty.
- Gradually working through this hierarchy with the person exposing
themselves first to easier situations or thoughts, or to parts
of a situation, while preventing themselves from engaging in the
ritual they would usually perform.
- Homework involving continued exposure to difficult situations.
It is recommended that a person with OCD work with a Psychologist
to overcome their difficulties as the work is challenging and a
Psychologist can provide information, direction and support.
Taken from Andrews, G., Crino, R., Hunt,
C., Lampe, L.. & Page, A. (1994). The Treatment of Anxiety Disorders:
Clinician’s Guide and Patient Manuals. Cambridge University
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