5 Uncommon Types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Obsessions, Compulsions, and Symptoms

Key Takeaways

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’s complex nature extends beyond commonly held beliefs of excessive cleanliness or perfectionism. Recognizing its various types is pivotal in understanding the breadth of this disorder and ensures that those afflicted receive apt treatment.

  • OCD isn’t just about cleanliness or orderliness.
  • Understanding the different types of OCD—including contamination, harm, symmetry, taboo obsessions, and hoarding—is essential for understanding and treatment.
  • Effective treatment hinges on the type of OCD and its diagnosis timeline.
  • While OCD is an Anxiety Disorder, it’s just a subset. Generalized Anxiety Disorders are more prevalent.
  • While the exact cause of OCD remains elusive, it’s believed to result from a mix of genetic, neurological, behavioral, cognitive, and environmental factors.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is more than an urge for cleanliness or an affectionate term for someone who likes things “just so.” At its core, OCD is characterized by persistent and intrusive obsessions coupled with repetitive compulsions. We define it as a Mental Health condition that causes people to fixate on smaller aspects of life in a compulsive way, to the point where it interferes with their ability to function. These symptoms of OCD can severely disrupt daily life.

There are several subtypes of OCD, each with its own specific focus of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions and compulsions are two key components of OCD, each distinct with its own definition. Obsession refers to an intrusive and distressing thought, image or urges that repeatedly enters a person’s mind. They are unwanted thoughts and cause significant anxiety. Compulsion is defined as a behavior or mental act that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. These often are repetitive and may involve specific actions, rituals or mental behaviors.

According to the latest research study by NIMH, it is estimated that 1.2% of adults in the United States have OCD and more prevalent amongst females (1.8%) than males (0.5%).

Are There Different Types of OCD?

A common misconception about OCD is that it encompasses just one disorder. The reality is that OCD shows up for different people in unique ways, which justifies a need to distinguish different OCD types from one another.

Common Types of OCD

OCD is medically defined by DSM-5 as a type of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. People with OCD are often inundated with intrusive, obsessive thoughts that are uncontrollable. These often lead to heightened anxiety and people with OCD exhibit anxious behaviors,

Contamination OCD harbors an obsession with washing and cleaning compulsions. It includes severe fears of contamination that lead to excessive washing, cleaning, and avoidance behaviors.

Checking OCD is common with people who have persistent fears of harm coming to themselves or others due to negligence. They repeatedly check things like locks, appliances, or safety measures to alleviate their anxiety.

Symmetry and Ordering OCD involves an obsession with symmetry, balance, or arranging items in a specific order. Compulsive behaviors might include arranging objects, straightening items, or counting in certain patterns.


Outside of the common types of OCD, there are types of OCD that may be less common and lack awareness.

Harm OCD, while harm-related obsessions are common, some individuals experience harm OCD in a less common form. It involves fears of being a danger to themselves or to others. This often occurs while performing mundane activity when all of a sudden have intrusive harming thoughts and an indication to act. This fuels their anxiety and subsequently increases behavior aimed at eliminating this fear, for example removing all sharp objects from their kitchen. Common compulsions in Harm OCD include reassurance seeking, mental review, mental rituals, and avoidance.

Scrupulosity OCD involves obsessions related to religious or moral concerns. People with this subtype might constantly fear they are committing sinful or immoral acts, even if their actions are not objectively wrong. This is very closely related to any thoughts of one’s behavior that may offend a higher power/God.

Perfectionism OCD is also known as “just right OCD”. This subtype of OCD is characterized by an intense need for things to be just right or tasks completed perfectly. Individuals with perfectionism OCD may exhibit symmetry obsessions with ordering, arranging, counting compulsions. When people diagnosed with OCD experience this, they might engage in repetitive behaviors to ensure order and arrangement.

Sexual Orientation OCD individuals experience intrusive doubts or fears about their sexual orientation. They might repeatedly analyze their attractions or seek reassurance from themselves or others about their sexual preferences.

Each type, while distinct in its symptoms, revolves around a similar theme: the cyclical relationship between Anxiety-inducing obsessions and the compulsive behaviors intended to alleviate them. In addition to these variations, people may also experience OCD intrusive thoughts, which can severely disrupt their daily lives.

Those diagnosed with OCD may experience only one of these types, or many of them may manifest at once. Someone with hoarding compulsions, for example, may also have a myriad of mental rituals that they also follow.

What Treatment Options Are Available for OCD?

The efficacy of treatments often depends on the specific type of OCD and when it was diagnosed. As with any Mental Health treatment, results vary. What works well for one person may not work for the next. Therapists are here to help patients find a treatment that feels right for their unique needs and circumstances.

Common treatments are numerous. One of them, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), helps patients acknowledge and alter negative thought patterns and behaviors. This is particularly potent for OCD. Some providers will also try Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). This is a CBT subset where patients are exposed to their obsessions but prevented from carrying out the associated compulsion.

In many cases, medication is the best option for treating OCD. Certain antidepressants can be especially helpful when paired with therapy. It’s important to consult with your physician before taking any medications, and psychiatrists are here to help you find the right medication and dosage. For those resistant to traditional treatments, Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), which involves electrodes in the brain, might be an option. Mount Sinai reports that this treatment works for about 60% of patients who try it for OCD.

For comprehensive advice tailored to individual needs, refer to LifeStance’s OCD page.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.