Have you wondered what truly qualifies as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? We hear this phrase very commonly now, and many people like to make light of their selves or routines by saying “I’m OCD,” but are they actually? It’s important to clear up any misconceptions regarding this so you can know when you actually need to seek help. Early intervention is critical for your health and to live a full life. Read on below to fully understand what having OCD means. 

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition characterized by repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and excessive urges to engage in behaviors related to these thoughts (compulsions). OCD affects both children and adults and is typically diagnosed by late adolescence or early adulthood. OCD can be a very life limiting disorder, but with proper treatment a health and fulfilling life can be achieved. 

What are the Symptoms of OCD?

  • Obsessions: These are unwanted, disturbing thoughts, images, or urges that won’t go away, despite causing severe distress or anxiety. Individuals with OCD know these thoughts are irrational, but feel like they have no control over them. Obsessions are typically accompanied by feelings of fear, disgust, or doubt. 
  • Compulsions: These are repetitive behaviors or rituals intended to counteract the obsessions or make them go away. Individuals with OCD know that these behaviors are not realistic, but they feel like they must do them to relieve the anxiety caused by obsessions or prevent something bad from happening. Compulsions do not bring pleasure and provide only temporary relief. They are time consuming and get in the way of daily activities.

How is OCD Diagnosed?

Although you may hear people say that they have OCD because they occasionally experience an impulsive thought or compulsive behavior, OCD is an ongoing cycle that severely interferes with normal, daily functioning. Lightly using the phrase “I have OCD” can bring misconceptions to the significant impact and struggles of what having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is like. There are very specific criteria that must be met in order to receive an OCD diagnosis. To be diagnosed with OCD, you must have:

  • Obsessions, compulsions, or both
  • An inability to control your obsessions (thoughts) and compulsions (behaviors), even when you recognize that they are irrational
  • Obsessions and compulsions that last at least an hour each day and cause significant problems with work, relationships, or other parts of life
  • No gain of pleasure from compulsions aside from a brief relief from anxiety caused by the obsessions


What are the Subtypes of OCD?

Though there are many types of OCD, individuals’ obsessions and compulsions tend to fall into one of the following five main subtypes.  

  • Contamination Obsessions & Washing/Cleaning Compulsions- Individuals with this subtype fear discomfort related to dirt & contamination and will engage in excessive washing or cleaning to relieve their stress. (e.g. Washing your hands repeatedly for hours after touching a door knob)
  • Harm Obsessions & Checking Compulsions- Individuals with this subtype worry about possible harm to themselves or others and engage in constant checking rituals to relieve their distress. (e.g. Worrying about your house burning down and repeatedly driving by your house to make sure there is no fire; Worrying that you are increasing the likelihood of something bad happening just by thinking about it)
  • Symmetry Obsessions & Ordering/Arranging/Counting Compulsions- This subtype involves the urge to arrange and rearrange things to prevent feelings of discomfort from things not feeling “right” or symmetrical (e.g. Wanting to write the exact same number of words in each line on a page). Sometimes these compulsions are used to prevent potential harm or danger. (e.g. “Something bad will happen if the pillows on my bed are uneven.”)
  • Hoarding- Individuals who hoard are unable to discard possessions with little value due to the fear of losing items that may be needed one day. This subtype is associated with higher depression and anxiety than other subtypes. 
  • Obsessions Without Visible Compulsions- Individuals with this subtype will ruminate over unwanted thoughts, particularly related to sexual, religious, or aggressive themes. Instead of engaging in compulsions, mental rituals may be used, like reciting words, counting in one’s head, or praying for relief. (e.g. Intrusive thoughts about attacking someone)



How is OCD Treated?

Treatment for OCD typically involves medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Antidepressants are the most common medications used to treat OCD, and must be prescribed by a medical doctor or psychiatrist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) are also highly effective in treating OCD symptoms. CBT is focused on recognizing and changing negative thoughts that cause distress and lead to compulsive behaviors. ERP involves exposing individuals with OCD to the cause of their anxiety and prevents them from engaging in compulsions. 



If some of the symptoms above sound similar to your life situation, it’s important to begin taking the steps to seek help for this. Symptoms can become worse over time and sometimes will evolve into other issues if left untreated. If you’re interested in psychotherapy for OCD, reach out to us!


Source(s): National Institute for Mental Health , International OCD Foundation, Mayo Clinic, National Association for Mental Illness, The Very Well Mind