Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common form of anxiety disorder in which people will experience recurring or unwanted thoughts (obsessions). The compulsion is the behaviour or action that a person repeats to make themselves feel less anxious or to stop their obsessive thoughts.
These compulsions or repetitive behaviours are often carried out with the hope of preventing the obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these rituals can give some temporary relief from the anxiety. At other times, the individual may be full of doubt that they have carried out the ritual properly and so they repeat the ritual to ‘get it right’ – a process that can go on for hours. Lots of people have rituals, such as checking to see if the stove has been turned off several times before leaving the house. The difference is that people with OCD perform their rituals even though doing so interferes with daily life and they find the repetition distressing. A person with OCD gets little or no pleasure from their compulsive behaviour.
The most effective treatments for OCD usually involve talking treatments – such as counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy – and medication. Without treatment, nearly half of people with OCD still have symptoms 30 years later. With treatment, the outlook for OCD is good and many people will achieve a complete cure, or at least reduce symptoms enough to be able to enjoy a good quality of life.
Read the NHS self-help guide to Obsessions and Compulsions.