Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

About 1 in 40 people suffer from OCD, a serious anxiety disorder.  People often use terms such as “OCD” or “obsessed” to describe perfectionistic tendencies or other common behaviors.  For example, “I’m obsessed with watching American Idol.”  This mostly likely is not OCD!


Obessesions are unwanted, repetitive thoughts that are difficult to control and cause anxiety or distress.  Obsessions often, but not always, fall into several categories.

  • Fears about germs, contamination, and cleanliness
  • Obsessions about order and symmetry
  • Intrusive thoughts, often religious or sexual, usually considered blasphemous or sacreligious
  • Fears about harming or killing people


Compulsions are behaviors — physical or mental — done to reduce the anxiety or distress associated with obsessions.  Common compulsions include:

  • Repetitive handwashing, lengthy showers, excessive cleaning
  • Rearranging items until they are “just right”
  • Canceling out thoughts with other thoughts, prayers, or sayings
  • Counting

The above obsessions and compulsions are common, but there is not a “typical” OCD.  Each person experiences it uniquely.


Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is the most effective treatment for OCD. ERP may be accompanied by other aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy.  It can be helpful to have an experienced professional guide and support you through ERP treatment.

Sadly, people with OCD may have had ineffective or insufficient treatment, so they become discouraged about seeking further treatment.  If you are in this position, you may want to call for an interview to explore whether more effective treatment is possible for you.


Obsessive Compulsive Foundation

Anxiety Disorders Association of American