For most of us double-checking bolted doors and unplugged irons might be a part of a routine habit, but there are individuals who find it difficult to resist the temptation to perform such actions repeatedly and uncontrollably. They will wash their hands to rid of germs till their skin is sore and chapped. Some arrange the books in their bookshelves alphabetically for hours till they get the sequence right. They seem to have no control of their ritualistic behaviour and it becomes so excessive that it hampers their daily activities.
If you are a sufferer of obsessive compulsive disorder, you do not need to succumb to isolation or despair because next time you are overcome by irrational urges and compulsions, you can seek professional help to pull you out of the helplessness.
You are not the only one with this condition and in fact it is more prevalent than it was in the past. According to the WHO mental health report, OCD ranked among the top 20 causes of illness related disability worldwide between the ages of 15 and 44. Many other researches quote OCD as the fourth most common mental illness. But the first step on the path to recovery is educating yourself about OCD symptoms and treatment options available.
What is OCD?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is classified under anxiety disorders and it is characterised by unreasonable and undesired thoughts, fears, ideas and sensations (obsessions) and that lead to repetitive impulse to perform certain actions (compulsions) despite the awareness that they are irrational.
The spectrum of this disorder pivots around certain themes like fearing contamination by germs. Carrying out the behaviour provides temporary relief and abstinence will cause severe anxiety. Despite the strongest efforts the thoughts keep recurring leading to a ritualistic conduct and eventually the vicious cycle that dominates obsessive compulsive disorder.
People suffering from OCD generally exhibit a blend of obsessions and compulsions. But a few may experience either one or the other.
Obsessive thoughts: These are involuntary and uncontrollable thoughts or impulses that occur over and over in your head despite efforts to suppress them. They are commonly demonstrated as:
- Fear of contamination by germs or dirt.
- Fear of harming yourself or others.
- Intrusive sexually explicit or violent images and thoughts.
- Focusing on religious or moral obligations excessively.
- Fear of losing or not acquiring things you desire.
- Ideas of maintaining order and symmetry.
- Paying excessive attention to superstitions
Compulsive behaviour: These are certain behaviours or rituals that you feel an uncontrollable drive to perform over and over again. Temporary relief might be achieved by performing the specific act but the recurring and stronger desire to repeat it causes great anxiety. Individuals suffering from OCD may demonstrate the following compulsions:
- Excessive double checking; like whether the door is locked or appliances switched off.
- Checking on loved ones to ensure they are safe repeatedly.
- Counting, nodding, tapping, playing with hair, repeating certain words and doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety.
- Spending a lot of time washing, cleaning and spending huge sums on buying anti-bacterial lotions and sanitizers.
- Ordering or arranging things without a rational reason.
- Praying or meditating excessively in response to religious or spiritual dread.
- Collecting junk; like old newspaper, empty containers, and broken articles.
Treatment for OCD
OCD proves to be a source of great anxiety both for the sufferer and the loved ones around him. But fortunately this illness is curable. The most effective treatment available is cognitive behaviour therapy and interpersonal therapies. Anti-depressants can be utilised as a conjunction therapy to alleviate the symptoms although they are rarely effective on a solitary level.
Cognitive behaviour therapy
This therapy basically involves two components. The first one called exposure and response prevention emphasises on repeatedly exposing the individual to the source of obsession and then training him to refrain from the behaviour that he would generally indulge in to alleviate the mounting anxiety. This enables them to establish a control over the obsessive thought and compulsive behaviour without actually indulging in the ritual. The second part, termed cognitive therapy, places a focus on the catastrophic thoughts and the exaggerated sense of responsibility you tend to experience while simultaneously enabling you to combat in a healthy and effective way to your obsessions without resorting to the compulsions.
Family and group therapy
Because OCD may result in various social upheavals and family problems, it is beneficial to indulge in a form of family therapy too. This promotes an understanding of the disorder amongst the family members, reducing family conflicts and enabling cooperation on the part of the loved ones. Interactions with fellow sufferers in group therapy also provides support and encouragement
Anti-depressants have a reputation to help in reducing the symptoms when used in combination with CBT. They are ineffective when used alone. The antidepressants often used in treating OCD are clomipramine, fluvoxamine, fluoxetine, paroxetine and sertraline. Side effects like stomach upsets, sleep disturbances, sweating and decreased libido is another reason for the unpopularity of these drugs in comparison with CBT.
There is no documented way of preventing OCD. However starting timely therapy is a possible way for worsening its outcome.
If you or someone you know suffers from ODD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Australia Counselling can link you with professional counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers that can help with this issue. Search for a counsellor on our Obsessive Compulsive Disorder page located in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra or a regional area near you.