Defining OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is an anxiety disorder in which individuals fixate on small aspects of life that others might not even think about. These fixations can center on anything from germs to tasks such as flipping light switches and are so powerful they interfere with the person’s ability to conduct a normal life.

Not Just Finicky or Neat

OCD is often misused to refer to people who are just finicky or neat. People who are just very clean or have finicky behaviors are not necessarily OCD patients. Spreading misconceptions such as this can be harmful to those who have the disorder. It belittles the very real and extreme suffering that people with OCD can experience. It may also discourage people from getting the help they need with this disorder.

OCD Diagnosis Criteria

What distinguishes an OCD patient from someone who is just finicky is how much their obsessive behaviors interfere in their lives. To meet the diagnostic criteria for OCD, the patient much spend at least 1 hour a day fixating on their obsession. What’s more, this fixation causes a great amount of distress in the patient’s life.

Examples of Obsessive Thoughts

Those with OCD fixate on things others don’t think twice about, such as turning a light on or off. A person with OCD may believe they need to turn that switch on and off a certain number of times in order to avoid trouble. Not performing this task causes great anxiety for the individual.

Others with OCD may be compelled to organize items in certain categories or avoid certain colors. OCD can manifest in more internal ways as well. For example, a wife with OCD may obsess on her spouse cheating even when there is no evidence that cheating has occurred.

Whatever the fixation, OCD makes the individual feel as if their world will fall apart if they do not execute their particular ritual.

OCD Symptoms

  • Obsessive, fixated thinking
  • Thoughts run out of control
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Performing rituals
  • Hoarding
  • Feelings of guilt around compulsions
  • Panic and anxiety
  • Nightmares

Treating OCD 

Depending on the patient’s symptoms, a mental health professional may choose to treat OCD with medication, therapy, or both.

Therapies that work effectively on OCD include:

  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • CBT
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy

One or more of these therapies may be necessary. A patient might benefit, for example, from individual therapy complemented by group sessions where they can dialogue with other OCD patients.

ERP is a type of talk therapy that comes from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In ERP, the patient works to slowly expose themselves to triggers. In session, they then work on building different reactions to those triggers.

Medication for OCD

Sometimes patients also need medication to deal with OCD. They may need medication in the short term as they go through therapy or throughout their lives.

Common medications for OCD include:

  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)