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

Understanding OCD

By Clifford N Lazarus Ph.D. on November 27, 2015 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

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 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

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 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 Fighting Fear
Some people are extraordinarily attuned to—and afraid of—the weather. Underlying that fear are more primitive fears.

Therapy, the Effective Kind

Are Americans getting the mental health treatment they need?

Genitally Does It

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on September 02, 2015 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.

Behavioral Addiction in OCD

Like addiction, both the obsessive thoughts and compulsions can take up an inordinate amount of time, making it impossible to meet the demands of a normal life.

The Evolution Of Technological Addictions

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on August 20, 2015 In Excess
In October 2014, the world's press reported the story of a man being treated for internet addiction disorder brought on by his excessive use of Google Glass. But can someone really be addicted to a technological device?

Ten Steps Out When Stuck in Doubt

By Jeff Bell on August 19, 2015 Beyond the Doubt
Struggling with doubt? Try making belief. Read on for the four necessary ingredients and a simple recipe for putting them all together.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on August 13, 2015 In Excess
Over the last few years, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) has become the focus of increasing media attention. BDD is a distressing, handicapping, and/or impairing preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in body appearance that the sufferer perceives to be ugly, unattractive, and/or deformed. But what does the psychological literature tell us?

Overcoming Garden Variety Moodiness

If you tend to moodiness and would like an approach that is "psychology" or "psychiatry light," give this a try.


In and out of psychotherapy since age 14.

When a Joke Raises Questions About Mental Health Awareness

As Mental Health Awareness month comes to a close, I hope that we can raise our acceptance and understanding of psychological conditions, whether they be related to OCD, depression, personality disorders or autism, and find something funnier to laugh about.

Breakup: How to Tell If You Suffer from Complicated Grief

Sometimes it is impossible to let go of grief. When you continue to grieve a loss, your condition is called complicated grief. Complicated grief is so severe that psychiatrists now consider it for inclusion in the psychiatric manual for diagnosing mental disorders. Here is how to tell if you suffer from complicated grief.

Body Punishment

By The Book Brigade on April 16, 2015 The Author Speaks
Obsessive-compulsive disorder takes many forms, but all of them involve repetitive behaviors that often create vicious cycles of anxiety and shame. Maggie Lamond Simone punished herself to maintain a public face—until the same disorder was diagnosed in her child. Only then did the healing begin.

Hoarders and Collectors

A hoarding diagnosis should have nothing to do with a person’s net worth or a clinician’s take on what is worth collecting and what does not deserve getting attached to.

Time to Tidy Up Your Head

When a book about tidying up your home hits the top of the best seller's list, there's got to be something worth reading in it. Or maybe this is just a wake up call for all of us to look at the kind of cleaning up we really need to do. The author asks that you completely empty your drawers and closets. I ask that you completely empty out your head.

One Warning Sign That He May Not Be the Best Lover

By Donna Barstow on March 31, 2015 Ink Blots Cartoons
A cartoon about OCD and food obsessions.

How Most Anxiety Can be Beaten With Just One Simple Method

The most important ingredient in almost all successful anxiety treatments is what therapists call exposure. Here is what it is and why it works.

What is a Psychological Disorder?

Psychologists define a psychological disorder broadly as psychological dysfunction in an individual that is associated with distress or impairment and a reaction that is not culturally expected.

Sexed Text and Writing Wrongs

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on March 10, 2015 In Excess
Erotographomania means different things to different people. For some it is when individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from writing love poems or letters. For others it's the drawing obscene pictures and diagrams in lavatories, public urinals or writing obscene anonymous letters to young girls. But what do we really know about it?

Doing Less to Conquer Your Fear

Therapists should avoid distraction during exposure treatment for OCD.

How to Break the Bonds of Victimhood and Build Self-Esteem

By Clifford N Lazarus Ph.D. on February 18, 2015 Think Well
Here are two simple ways to feel more in control of your life and better about yourself.

Body Language

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on February 17, 2015 In Excess
Muscle Dysmorphia describes a condition characterised by a misconstrued body image in individuals interpret their body size as both small and weak even though they may look normal or even be highly muscular. But could it be classed as an addiction to body image?

Thinking and Doing in Exposure/Response Prevention Therapy

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on February 12, 2015 Think, Act, Be
In the third post in a series, find out what the "exposure" in exposure and response prevention is all about, and how therapists can avoid using the wrong form of exposure in treatment.

Protection Compulsion...A Case Study

By Teri Woods Ph.D. on February 11, 2015 Compulsive!
A psychologist can't fix what they don't know about. Sometimes a patient's defenses can be so strong they thwart their own treatment. But if a therapist slips into detective mode, he/she just might find enough clues to find out what's really going on.