Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a type of anxiety disorder, traps people in endless cycles of repetitive thoughts and behaviours.
These obsessive thoughts by their very nature are repugnant and morally opposed the sufferer's belief system.  Due the attentional bias given to such negative thoughts their occurrence becomes more frequent and negative meanings are attached to them, incorrectly. People with OCD are experience intrusive, recurring and distressing thoughts, fears, or images (obsessions) that they feel they need to control. The anxiety (nervousness) produced by these thoughts leads to an urgent need to perform certain rituals or routines (compulsions). The compulsive rituals are performed in an attempt to prevent the obsessive thoughts or make them go away.

Although the ritual may make the anxiety go away temporarily, the person must perform the ritual again when the obsessive thoughts return. This OCD cycle can progress to the point of taking up hours of the person's day and significantly interfering with normal activities. People with OCD may be aware that their obsessions and compulsions are senseless or unrealistic, but they cannot stop themselves.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

The symptoms of OCD, which are the obsessions and compulsions, may vary. Common obsessions include:

  • Fear of dirt or contamination by germs.
  • Fear of causing harm to another.
  • Fear of making a mistake.
  • Fear of being embarrassed or behaving in a socially unacceptable manner.
  • Fear of thinking evil or sinful thoughts.
  • Need for order, symmetry, or exactness.
  • Excessive doubt and the need for constant reassurance.

Common compulsions include:

  • Repeatedly bathing, showering, or washing hands.
  • Refusing to shake hands or touch doorknobs.
  • Repeatedly checking things, such as locks or cookers.
  • Constant counting, mentally or aloud, while performing routine tasks.
  • Constantly arranging things in a certain way.
  • Eating foods in a specific order.
  • Being stuck on words, images or thoughts, usually disturbing, that won't go away and can interfere with sleep.
  • Repeating specific words, phrases, or prayers.
  • Needing to perform tasks a certain number of times.
  • Collecting or hoarding items with no apparent value.


One of the most effective treatments for OCD is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as it focuses on teaching individuals to manage and regulate their own anxiety.  This is carried out through gradual exposure to trigger situations which activate the obsessions/negative appraisals, as well as postponing and phasing out unhelpful rituals .  In proving that anxiety is in fact manageable the urge to act on obsessions via compulsions/ritualising is significantly reduced.