What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

From hoarding to hand-washing to forever checking the stove, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) takes many forms. It is an anxiety disorder that traps people in repetitive thoughts and behavioral rituals that can be completely disabling.

Surveys conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health show that 2 percent of the population suffers from OCD—that's more than those who experience other mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder. OCD might begin in childhood, but it most often manifests during adolescence or early adulthood. Scientists believe that both a neurobiological predisposition and environmental factors jointly cause the unwanted, intrusive thoughts and the compulsive behaviors patterns that appease the unwanted thoughts.

Unless treated, the disorder tends to be chronic—lasting for years, even decades—although the severity of the symptoms may wax and wane over the years. Both pharmacological and behavioral approaches have proven effective as treatments; often a combination of both is most helpful.

Recent posts on OCD

Misdiagnosis of a Behavioral Addiction

By Jon E. Grant, JD, MD, MPH, Brian L. Odlaug, PhD, MPH, and Samuel R. Chamberlain, MD, PhD on July 12, 2016 in Why Can't I Stop?
Many people with behavioral addictions have been told that they have a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Gambling, ADHD, OCD and Kleptomania

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on July 07, 2016 in In Excess
Papers in psychiatric journals have claimed that many of the characters in the Star Wars movies have underlying psychopathologies including pathological gambling, OCD and ADHD

The More I Check, the Less Confident I Feel

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on June 23, 2016 in Think, Act, Be
Trying to find certainty through repeated checking in OCD is bound to backfire.

Children, Dogs and the Power of Unconditional Love

For these kids, the human/dog bond really does lead to hope and healing.

When Clients Confess to Crimes They Did Not Commit

What if your client confessed to harming a child, but you were sure it didn't happen? A psychologist weighs the options and debates whether to report or not report.

Move Yourself to Feel Better

Emotions are not always reasonable

How to Stop Mild Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior

The Mayo Clinic defines OCD as: "unreasonable thoughts and fears that lead you to do repetitive behaviors." Here’s a quick tip to help stop mild obsessive-compulsiveness.
used with permission from iclipart

Have You Ever Wished Someone Was Dead?

Many of us have wished someone would die or disappear when we're angry. But how common is it to actually fantasize about committing murder?

What You Need to Know if Your Child or Teen Has OCD

Children and teens with OCD must learn to tolerate and overcome their own emotional distress.

4 Myths About OCD

Even though OCD is more prevalent than celiac disease, few people understand how to separate the facts from fiction when it comes to the illness.

The OCD, Super Diligent, Over-Conscientious Boss

By Adrian Furnham Ph.D. on April 29, 2016 in A Sideways View
Being careful and detail oriented is often a very desirable at work. But is this optimal rather than maximal. Can there be too much of a good thing with regard to diligence.

Interview of an OCD Therapist: Dr. Doronn the Ironwoman

By Jean Kim M.D. on March 29, 2016 in Culture Shrink
The best way to tackle the demons of obsessive-compulsive disorder is to face them head-on.

Consider This for Children and Teens With OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can greatly disrupt the lives of children and teens. Here is expert advice to manage it.

A Misunderstanding Central to OCD

By Fredric Neuman M.D. on March 27, 2016 in Fighting Fear
Persons suffering from Obsessive-compulsive disorder imagine the world to be more dangerous than it is. In particular, they think substances are dangerous even in tiny amounts.

Did Einstein Show Asperger's Traits?

Psychological traits of Einstein and 11 others including Lincoln, Howard Hughes, Warhol, and Darwin, and how they coped with inner adversity are examined in this new book.

Why Alyssa Coco’s Mind is “Like a Burning Clock”

By Michael Friedman Ph.D. on March 14, 2016 in Brick by Brick
Alyssa Coco of Roses and Revolutions shares her struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Unhinged. The Complete Story

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on January 29, 2016 in How To Do Life
A story about obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Unhinged, Part 1

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on January 28, 2016 in How To Do Life
A story about obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Mental Rituals in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on January 27, 2016 in Think, Act, Be
What is the "Pure O" form of obsessive-compulsive disorder? Does it really exist? And can the best psychotherapy for OCD help if there are no obvious compulsions?

2 Keys for Conquering Your Worst Case Scenarios

Sometimes our imaginations make our fears feel horrifyingly real. How can we counter this common tendency?

Understanding OCD

By Clifford N Lazarus Ph.D. on November 27, 2015 in Think Well
Here's some information that will help you to better understand the crippling anxiety disorder of OCD, how to best treat it, and why the treatment works.

The Mysteries of Habit

By David Hellerstein M.D. on November 02, 2015 in Heal Your Brain
Neuroscience research brings together seemingly unrelated conditions...anorexia, OCD and substance use disorders...which may share common -- and difficult-to-modify -- brain circuits related to habit learning.

Top Apps for Your Mental Health

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on October 27, 2015 in How To Do Life
SmartPhone apps and YouTube channels that can help you with anxiety, habit formation, depression, addiction, OCD, even suicide.

Inside the Mind of a School Shooter

By Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A. on October 06, 2015 in Just Listen
What may cause a person to become a school shooter is when his mind becomes so disorganized that the three brains that make up his triune brain react by becoming "locked and loaded" and focused on a mission to get in and get even with a world that caused him to feel put down and pushed away.

It's Hard to Hide Your OCD

By Donna Barstow on September 25, 2015 in Ink Blots Cartoons
One study looks at possible links between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and workaholics. They're not necessarily related, but they could be neighbors.

Treating Tourette's, OCD, and Selective Mutism in Children

Children with Tourette's Syndrome, OCD, or Selective Mutism can be challenging to treat. These specialized behavioral methods can provide treatment options for parents and therapists.

Fear of the Weather

By Fredric Neuman M.D. on September 21, 2015 in Fighting Fear
Some people are extraordinarily attuned to—and afraid of—the weather. Underlying that fear are more primitive fears.

Therapy, the Effective Kind

By Dean McKay Ph.D. on September 09, 2015 in Your Fears and Anxieties
Are Americans getting the mental health treatment they need?

Genitally Does It

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on September 02, 2015 in In Excess
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a distressing, handicapping, and/or impairing preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in body appearance. One particular body part that has been the focus of some research in the BDD field is that of genitalia. Many men obsessively worry about the size of their penis. But what does the psychological literature tell us?

Obsess Much? Here’s Why

Obsessive rumination can be tied specifically to one’s own failures – for good evolutionary reasons. Understanding the nature of rumination may hold a key to dealing with this facet of mental life.