Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

By: Lisa Philippart
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) used to be considered an anxiety disorder, but because of its complexity, it is now considered to be a unique condition. Do you double-check the locks at night or worry about the safety of a family member? This is “normal.” But for those with OCD, these types of thoughts and behaviors become so extreme that they interfere with daily routines, work, and even relationships. For example, people with OCD have been known to wash their hands for eight hours in a day. (Think Jack Nicholson in the movie, “As Good As It Gets.”)

OCD does not just go away by itself. And in my opinion, it takes more than willpower to try to manage it. I have seen people with OCD who are trapped in patterns of thoughts and behaviors that are beyond their control. The obsessive part involves ideas or thoughts that continuously intrude on a person’s mind, such as fear, worry, dread, or perfectionism. The compulsive piece is repetitive actions driven by these obsessions, such as hand washing, checking, and hoarding. For some people, OCD actions like counting, aren’t as obvious, so they continue to suffer in silence.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder may develop gradually, moving from thoughts to actions, which will eventually produce symptoms that affect daily life. People with OCD often feel embarrassed and will avoid talking to anyone about what is going on…even to their healthcare provider. OCD can develop at any age, but the research indicates that it often begins in adolescence, with the average age being 19. If you or someone you know is suffering with OCD or OCD-like indicators, what can you do? Because OCD is chronic, it is important to understand that you can learn to handle it and be in recovery, but there is no cure.

I believe that the concept of doubt is what an OCD-sufferer struggles with daily. Doubt can override even the most intelligent person. It causes the person to check things hundreds of times or ask endless questions. And only when the OCD-sufferer recognizes the challenge of trying to resolve this doubt, can he or she make progress. You can resist acting out a compulsion, but it is extremely difficult to refuse to think an obsessive thought. This is where cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) comes in. CBT will help you to confront fearful thoughts and situations, while resisting the carrying out of your compulsions. Once you start questioning the likelihood of your fears actually coming true, you can challenge that logic. But this can take time as there is no quick and easy fix….and no partial recovery.

As with most of life, balance is the key. And achieving balance is the result of being healthy and choosing a healthy lifestyle, which includes getting enough sleep, a proper diet, exercise, positive social relationships, and purposeful work. So take care of yourself. Start now in this season of hope and joy! Merry Christmas!
By: Lisa Philippart
Licensed Professional Counselor