Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder that causes unwanted and intrusive thoughts or feelings that cause an individual to feel driven to do something. OCD affects one in every 50 individuals in the United States. Often times, OCD begins in childhood or adolescence and if untreated, will continue into adulthood. This research paper will address the symptoms of OCD and the current counseling techniques used to treat it.
Keywords: obsessive compulsive disorder, rituals, obsession, exposure and response prevention, compulsions, obsessions
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Individuals with OCD are often plagued by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or images, or by the urgent need to engage in certain rituals. Patients with OCD usually recognize the fact that their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are extreme or illogical, but this awareness does not help control their symptoms. An equal number of men and women are diagnosed with OCD, however, men tend to develop it earlier than women. Clients with OCD tend to suffer in many areas of their lives because so much of their time and energy is spent doing their rituals. For more than 7 out of 10 patients, the disorder severely impairs their family relationships, and 6 out of 10 have impaired friendships because of their OCD. Nearly 60 percent of OCD suffers experience academic underachievement and 40 percent of them are unemployed or underemployed (Hollander, Kwon, Stein, Broatch, Rowland & Himelein, 1996).
Most forms of OCD fall into five main categories, with most individuals having symptoms in more than one. The five categories include washers, checkers, doubters and sinners, counters and arrangers, and hoarders. Washers fear contamination and usually have cleaning compulsions. For example, they believe that if they don’t clean, something bad will happen. Checkers will repeatedly check things such as ovens and doors to ensure they are turned off. Each time doubt sets in, the person will check again, up to twenty times per day or more. Doubters and sinners fear that terrible things will happen if everything is not perfect and in order. Counters and arrangers tend to have obsessions about order, symmetry, and numbers. Certain number or certain colors may be “bad,” and asymmetry may lead to an imagined catastrophe. Hoarders are individuals that cannot throw anything away because they fear that if they do, something terrible may happen. However, not all hoarders are suffering from OCD. Some hoarders may be lazy or simply don’t have the time to sort through piles to discard unwanted items. When trying to determine if a hoarder has OCD, a therapist may ask the person what they believe will happen if they were to discard all of the items. If the person becomes upset or anxious at the idea of throwing away some items, they may be suffering from OCD.
In the past few years, the number of diagnosed cases of OCD has increased. Currently, OCD is the fourth most common mental disorder in the United States. It affects one in every five adults in the United States, with one third of them reporting they have been suffering from the disorder since childhood. OCD has been diagnosed in children as young as three years of age. In the article, “Just a Phase? Normal Developmental Rituals Versus OCD in Young Children,” the author provides an example of a six-year old girl who was being treated for OCD. The child’s parents first became concerned when the young girl began experiencing intrusive thoughts and images about bad things happening to her or her siblings. From there, the child began washing her hands excessively and seeking constant reassurance from her parents that her food was “clean” and wasn’t going to make her sick. She also