Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a serious disorder that can impact your everyday life, including school, work, relationships, and even simple, daily functions. However, OCD is treatable. Keep reading to learn more about OCD and what treatment options are possible to help you find a light at the end of the tunnel.
What is OCD?
OCD is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by excessive unwanted thoughts, concerns, and fears (obsessions) that lead to repetitive mental or physical behavior (compulsions). These thoughts and behaviors may be rooted in a fear that is technically possible but often not probable. The extent that a person goes to prevent this feared outcome becomes unreasonable. The fear and uncertainty around this unwanted yet unlikely outcome can trigger intense distress that gets in the way of everyday functioning. People with OCD may begin to make life choices based on fear rather than on the people and things they value and care about most.
OCD is often a lifelong disorder that may start in childhood but more likely begins during teen or young adult years. The severity of the symptoms and the types of obsessions and compulsions one might have can often fluctuate and change over time. For instance, it is very common for symptoms to get worse during times of higher stress or significant change.
A Vicious Cycle
If you have or believe you have OCD, you may be familiar with the frustrating and vicious cycle of the disorder. However, before explaining the cycle itself, it is essential to know that it is entirely normal to have weird, gory, sexual, or any kind of thoughts. Most people think to themselves, “Well, that was strange,” and move on with their life, usually not sharing all these thoughts with others. Our brains are “random thought machines” that generate numerous types of ideas and associations about things in our minds or environments. It then throws these ideas and associations up to our higher cortex to see if they can be useful to us. We then use context, reason, societal norms, and our values to decide which ideas and associations are helpful to us and which can be trashed. This filtering process is often very automatic or even unconscious.
The vicious OCD cycle begins when we start to prioritize specific thoughts and treat them as if they are very urgent and require our immediate attention. We will prioritize these thoughts even when we know they are not rational because we may not be able to stop thinking “what if” scenarios. In an effort to rid our minds of this uncertainty and distress, we start doing mental or physical behaviors to reassure ourselves or lower our anxiety. This critical step drives and reinforces OCD in the long run. These compulsive behavior choices feel helpful temporarily but worsen OCD the more you do them in the long run. Think of these compulsions as digging the OCD rut deeper and deeper each time.
Themes Surrounding OCD
There is ongoing research trying to tease out any biological differences in OCD themes and how that may or may not impact treatment. However, experts currently consider all forms of OCD to be mostly the same condition. The content of the obsessions doesn’t really matter. OCD is OCD. Regardless, it is still worth talking about the different themes of OCD because so many people, even clinicians, are unaware of the different faces of OCD. Not knowing the different ways OCD can present itself can lead to patients going far too long without an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
It is also important to talk about the different themes of OCD because it helps people find and connect with others experiencing something similar. Groups of people with various OCD types are able to meet each other in-person or online to offer support and shared experiences. Community plays an important role in battling any mental health issue. Therefore, understanding what theme of OCD you are dealing with can help you connect with others who may be going through the same thing.
Themes of OCD relate to the types of thoughts and compulsions you might have. For example, one theme could revolve around the fear of a tragedy. An obsessive thought that could center around this theme is a fear of causing harm to loved ones, others, or yourself by accidentally causing your house to catch on fire. Because of this obsessive thought, you compulsively and repeatedly check that the stove is off.
These obsessive/compulsive themes routinely fluctuate or change shape throughout your life, and many, if not most, patients will have numerous themes at one time.
Common Themes and Symptoms of OCD
- Contamination Fears / Washing Compulsions
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD / appearance-related obsessions & compulsions)
- Social ruin or looking stupid / replaying conversations or checking messages that you sent
- Hyper-Responsibility / Checking (fear of making a mistake or causing a tragedy)
- Illness Anxiety or Hypochondriasis (fear of having/getting illnesses)
- Harm (violent obsessions, hit-and-run OCD, fear of causing harm)
- Sexual Orientation (obsessive & irrational uncertainty related to sexual orientation)
- Pedophilic/Sexual Assault Obsessions (irrational fear of inappropriate sexual thoughts or actions towards kids or other adults that the person finds deeply disturbing and distressing)
- Relationship (obsessive uncertainty around love, one’s partner, and fidelity)
- Religious or Moral Obsessions (Scrupulosity, obsessions about right/wrong, morality)
- Sensorimotor (obsessive awareness of typically unconscious processes, such as blinking, swallowing, breathing, etc.)
- “Pure O” – stands for purely obsessive; in actuality, most patients still engage in compulsions, but those compulsions are mental and not easily seen by others
It is important to note that not all themes are listed above, and you may struggle with a theme not represented above. Again, the specific content of OCD can be anything, and the specifics are ultimately irrelevant.
Treatment Options for OCD
First, we want to emphasize the importance of getting an OCD diagnosis from a trained professional. After receiving a diagnosis, you can discuss treatment plans with your mental health professional. Treatments for OCD may include one or a combination of the following treatment options:
These treatment options offer unique benefits that can help you overcome your struggle with OCD and/or some of the comorbid conditions often associated with OCD. However, treatment isn’t one-size-fits-all. It can sometimes take a couple of tries to get the right combination of things to work for you. It’s also important to remember that some medication approaches for OCD can take 2-3 months to see the full effects. Patience is definitely an important skill. However, if your plan simply isn’t working, it is critical to collaborate with your doctor to continue editing your treatment plan and find something that works.
How Mindful Health Solutions Can Help
We want to help you to rise above your OCD. Our clinicians want to free you from the burden of OCD with the most innovative, effective, non-invasive, and evidence-based therapies available.
At Mindful Health Solutions, we understand the importance of patient-centered care and that one size does not fit all when it comes to mental health treatment. We offer a dynamic menu of treatments, which includes traditional medication management and psychotherapy as well as cutting-edge alternatives. The good news is that with a variety of treatments and providers who understand your disorder, OCD is a very treatable condition.
Comfort and accessibility in treatments are important to you, which means it is important to us. If you are unable to physically come into the office or prefer a virtual appointment, we happily offer telepsychiatry. This allows you to get care from wherever you are in the state. We also foster a strong culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Our therapists strive to embody a sense of awareness, respect, and humility with regard to cultural differences. And last but not least, we accept most major insurances.
If you think that you or a loved one is struggling with OCD, let us help. Contact us in a way that is comfortable for you. Together, we can find a path forward.