Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


Obsessions are spontaneous and unwanted thoughts or impulses. These are experienced by the person as abhorrent and out of character. They can become persistent. An example would be the thought of harming someone even though you would not want to do so. Obsessions usually have themes around violence, sexual acts, doubting, blasphemy, and contamination by germs, bodily fluids or dirt.

Compulsions are the responses people make to obsessions or unpleasant feelings. They are usually repetitive and follow certain rules. They are intended to reduce unpleasant feelings or prevent bad things from happening. Some compulsions are private inner responses such as counting, praying, repeating special phrases or having certain ‘safe’ mental pictures. Other compulsions are overt and include behaviours such as repeated hand-washing, checking things, placing things in order or aligning objects.

Obsessions are normal and studies have shown that approximately 80 per cent of people have them. They do not mean anything about the person and they do not signal danger.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) occurs when the individual becomes highly distressed by obsessions and/or compulsions become time consuming and difficult to stop. Such obsessions and compulsions interfere with the person’s quality of life and in more severe cases can prevent normal everyday functioning. For example, someone with contamination obsessions may have difficulty using public washrooms and using public transport, and washing rituals may consume so much time that the person is often late for work or appointments. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is highly effective in treating OCD.