What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by two elements. The first is recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images, that a person experiences as intrusive and unwanted, i.e., obsessions. The second is repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person feels they have to perform in response to an obsession or according to a set of rules. People with this clinical disorder are typically distressed by their obsessions and compulsions and can be severely impaired at home, at work, and socially.


The prevalence of OCD is about 1.2% with females being slightly more affected than males. Males however are more often affected during their childhood.

Signs and Symptoms

A person with OCD will experience repetitive thoughts and behaviours like hand-washing, ordering, checking, praying, counting, repeating words, etc. These behaviours are usually done by the person with OCD to help them relieve their stress or prevent something bad from happening. People who engage in these behaviours will be very anxious and distressed and often try to ignore or suppress the urge to engage in them. However, this often makes things worse. The obsessions and compulsions will be very time consuming (+1 hour/day) and will interfere with typical daily activities, work, etc. Many people with OCD will have dysfunctional beliefs like an inflated sense of responsibility, perfectionism, overestimating the threat of things, and putting a lot of importance on their thoughts. Some people will have insight into their behaviour however others feel that their rules, beliefs are true and need to be completed.


Treatment for OCD for many people may include both psychotherapy and medication. Psychotherapy typically involves cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP) which involves gradually exposing the person to a feared object or obsession and learning healthier ways of coping to the exposure. Medications can be prescribed to help control the obsessions and compulsions. There are a number of antidepressants that can be prescribed for this and will depend on the severity and other factors.



The DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5

The Mayo Clinic: Mayoclinic.org

Video resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8Jofzx_8p4