Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where people carry out obsessive and / or compulsive activities to help decrease their anxiety levels. Once they carry out the activity, their anxiety and panic levels will decrease. Approximately 2% of Australians have OCD (1).
OCD can be accompanied by shame and secrecy when carrying out the compulsions, and this can lead to a delay in getting treatment. This is ironic, as treatment can often improve the individual’s life and decrease their anxiety.
Symptoms can vary greatly, and there is no one ‘set of symptoms’. They often appear in childhood or adolescence.
People with OCD may also have other issues such as depression, and other anxiety disorders (e.g. eating disorder, phobia, dependence on alcohol).
Myths about OCD
There are several myths which are worth dispelling around OCD
- Myth: ‘I like to be clean and tidy. I must have OCD’
- Reality: Obsessions and compulsions are more than just a need for cleanliness. They can be exhausting, take up a lot of time, and can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life. (1)
- Myth: ‘People with OCD cannot get better.’
- Reality: With good treatment and support, people with OCD can recover well. (1)
- Myth: ‘People with OCD just need to get over it.’
- Reality: Obsessive and compulsive behaviours are not just a character trait. A person with OCD cannot control their repetitive thoughts and behaviour. (1)
Where does OCD originate?
OCD is thought to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors:
- Biological factors – OCD has been linked to several neurological factors and irregular levels of serotonin (a chemical that transmits messages between brain cells) in particular. Research into chemical, structural and functional changes or abnormalities in the brain continues.
- Environmental / learned behaviours – Some experts suggest that OCD may develop as a result of learned behaviour, either by direct conditioning (e.g. developing a washing compulsion after contracting a disease from contact with an animal), or watching the behaviour of other family members (2).
What is OCD like?
Obsessions and compulsions can include
- cleanliness: fear of contamination, hand washing, house cleaning
- fear of harm: fear of illness or harm to self or family which leads to repeated checking if appliances are turned off, doors are locked, etc.
- counting: counting items repeatedly, e.g., pencils, pens, tiles on the floor or walls, including counting silently
- symmetry and order: fear of items not being in order (e.g. straightening items in a line, symmetrically or by colour).
- sexual activity: irrational disgust of sexual activity
- religious compulsions: repeated and excessive praying or other religious rituals
The obsessions and compulsions in OCD can often be an exaggerated version of something that is a common concern, e.g. worrying if you have locked the door before leaving your house. However, the difference between normal concern and OCD is that someone with OCD may need to check the door repeatedly instead of just checking once.
The obsessive / compulsive actions are reinforced for people with OCD when the event which they dreaded does not happen. As an example, if someone with OCD is concerned whether or not they have locked their front door, they may check the door 10 – 20 times. This allays their anxiety at that moment, and when they return and find that their house is safe, this repeated checking behaviour is likely to be repeated the next time they leave the house, as it ‘worked’ to protect the house.
In some cases, the obsessive / compulsive behaviours need to be increased over time to get the same amount of comfort and anxiety reduction, e.g., a person will wash their hands for 10 minutes instead of 5 minutes.
Psychological treatments are often the first step, and medication can also be used (2).
Hypnosis is very useful for helping people with OCD by increasing their feelings of calmness and help them regain self-control. It can also decrease anxiety significantly, thus breaking the cycle of obsessive and compulsive behaviours.
Hypnotherapy can also be used to talk to the subconscious mind and uncover the original event (or events) that triggered the OCD in childhood or adolescence, thus removing the root cause.
If you would like help with managing anxiety, or simply wish to find out more information, please email or phone me (Lisa Billingham from Sunset Coast Hypnotherapy) on firstname.lastname@example.org / 0403 932311. I will do my best to answer any of your questions, and to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you. All with no obligation.