How to recognise Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

November 12, 2012

How to recognise Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

There are occasions when all of us feel the need to check that the door is locked or the oven is switched off but for individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) these needs and thoughts become extreme and over-whelming, often to the point that it interferes with their daily routine. Symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder include feeling isolated and helpless often with uncontrollable thoughts and urges. Some people feel the need to perform basic actions repeatedly, over and over again. Obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers usually experience irrational thoughts or obsessive behaviours that although they may recognise as being irrational, cannot control or resist from carrying out. These occur when the brain gets stuck on a particular urge and even once you have carried out the action, such as wash your hands, you still feel the constant need to do it again. These actions cannot be controlled, are distracting and often take over the sufferer’s life. Obsessions are the involuntary thoughts that occur and compulsions are actions that are often carried out repeatedly, like rituals. Obsessions are often followed up by the compulsion, for example an obsessive thought about contaminated hands leads to compulsive and excessive cleaning of their hands. For sufferers of OCD, carrying out the action doesn’t lead to the thought going away as it should do, but rather the thought returns causing a feeling of anxiety if the action isn’t performed again.

There are 5 categories associated with OCD, which sufferers can usually be put in to. These are washers, who are afraid of contamination and have cleaning compulsions, checkers who constantly have to check things usually linked to danger such as whether the oven is switched off, doubters and sinners who believe that everything must be done perfectly or something bad will happen, counters and arrangers who are obsessed with numbers and hoarders who think something bad will happen if they throw anything away. People with obsessive-compulsive order can suffer from obsessions, compulsions or most commonly both together. Some signs and symptoms for obsessive thoughts can include:

  • Fear of contamination or contaminating others

  • Fear of causing harm to yourself or to others

  • Sexually explicit or violent thoughts or images

  • Extreme focus on religious ideas

  • Fear of losing something you may later need

  • Excessive thoughts about order and symmetry

  • Excessive attention to superstitions

Some of the more common signs of compulsive behaviour include:

  • Constant double checking of safety things

  • Excessive checking up on friends and family out of concern for their well-being

  • Repeated counting, tapping or other pointless activity to reduce anxiety

  • Spending an excessive amount of time cleaning

  • Spending an excessive amount of time arranging, lining up or ordering things

  • Accumulating useless items such as old newspapers

Cognitive behavioural therapy is thought to be one of the most effective treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Medication alone is not usually effective but anti-depressants are sometimes prescribed along with therapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy works through exposure and response prevention. The individual is exposed to the trigger of their obsession, for example touching a public restroom door handle. They are then prevented from carrying out their usual compulsive behaviour, in this case washing their hands. Instead the sufferer must sit and wait for the anxiety to naturally subside. This teaches the sufferer that they are able to take control over their thoughts. Cognitive therapy also involves teaching effective ways to deal with obsessive thoughts about catastrophic events and personal responsibility.

Family therapy is often an effective tool to consider as when one member of the family has obsessive-compulsive order, the whole family can be affected, often causing conflict. By attending therapy together, families can gain a further understanding of the condition and how best to deal with it.

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