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

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.

Behavioral Addiction in OCD

By Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. on August 20, 2015 in Science of Choice
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 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 in 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 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.

OCD

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 in 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

By Elias Aboujaoude M.D. on April 16, 2015 in Compulsive Acts
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

By Susan B. Winston LMFT on April 13, 2015 in Shift Happens
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 in Ink Blots Cartoons
A cartoon about OCD and food obsessions.

How Most Anxiety Can be Beaten With Just One Simple Method

By Clifford N Lazarus Ph.D. on March 21, 2015 in Think Well
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 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

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on March 05, 2015 in Think, Act, Be
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 in 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 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 in 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 in 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.

Anxious Parents Helped by “World’s Worst Mom”

By Darcia Narvaez Ph.D. on February 08, 2015 in Moral Landscapes
Lenore Skenazy was called a bad mother when she let her 9-year old son ride the NY subway alone. Now she hosts a TV show to help parents become more like her.

What Is Mindfulness and How Does It Work?

By Gregg Henriques Ph.D. on February 06, 2015 in Theory of Knowledge
Mindfulness is one of the most important developments in mental health in the past twenty years. Understand what it is and how it works.

The Surprising Psychology of BDSM

‘Fifty Shades’ piqued your curiosity? Answers to five kinky questions.

Why Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on January 29, 2015 in Think, Act, Be
The principles behind CBT aren’t new, so why is it so effective?

Adult PANDAS: Seek and Ye Shall Find

By Jory Goodman M.D. on January 24, 2015 in Attention, Please
The autoimmune disorder PANDAS is common in adults. Unfortunately it is not diagnosed because it is not looked for. Psychiatrists in particular, and all physicians need to learn the key features that will lead to the diagnosis. Patients need to know as well and push for proper evaluation and treatment.

iPhone Separation Anxiety

Are you suffering from iPhone Separation Anxiety?

Seven Ways Therapists Can Mess Up the Best OCD Treatment

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on January 17, 2015 in Think, Act, Be
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is the treatment of choice for OCD. Learn about the common mistakes in ERP that can make it less effective, and how to avoid them. This entry is the first in a series.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on January 14, 2015 in Think, Act, Be
A new blog on PsychologyToday.com will present the latest findings on cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness-based therapy.