- Some people mistakenly use the term “OCD” to refer to their desire for cleanliness or their perfectionist tendencies. obsessive-compulsive disorder is actually a clinical diagnosis that can be debilitating if left untreated.
- People living with OCD experience obsessions that cause distress. In response, they engage in compulsions (repeated behaviors or mental processes) in an attempt to soothe their discomfort.
- Effective treatment for OCD is available and may include therapy and medication. The first step in getting help for OCD is seeking an evaluation from a mental health professional.
Like other mental health conditions, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often makes its way into casual conversation. People sometimes use the term to describe their meticulous attention to detail or a preference for being highly organized. In fact, however, OCD is a diagnosable and treatable mental health condition. You can be a self-proclaimed perfectionist or a person who prefers order without having a mental health condition.
If you’re concerned that you might have OCD, know that you’re not alone and that help is available. Read on to discover the clinical definition of OCD, some common signs and symptoms, and how receiving a professional evaluation can set you on the path to healing.
What is OCD?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD is “a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (“obsessions”) and/or behaviors (“compulsions”) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.” These obsessions and compulsions can make it difficult to tend to your daily responsibilities and enjoy life.
OCD usually begins before the age of 25 but it often surfaces in childhood or adolescence. People who have OCD are also predisposed to other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. So in order for treatment to be effective, people living with OCD often require support for their co-occurring disorders. For this reason and more, it’s always best to seek a professional evaluation if you or someone you care about is struggling with symptoms of OCD.
What are the symptoms of OCD?
Each person affected by OCD will have their own unique experience of the condition. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and fluctuate in intensity over time. However, there are some common signs that may indicate the presence of OCD. For a person to be diagnosed with OCD, their symptoms must be so intense that they interrupt their ability to live their life in a profound way.
Obsessions are repeated, upsetting, and intrusive thoughts or mental images that cause distress and anxiety. Obsessions cannot be resolved by relying on logic alone and do not necessarily represent the person’s true inner wishes or desires. Some examples of obsessions include:
- Fears of germs, catching a contagious illness, or worries about getting dirty
- Unwanted thoughts or mental images that could be violent or sexual
- Fixating on ideas or thoughts related to religion that could feel disrespectful or blasphemous
- Fear of getting hurt or being harmed
- Worrying that something bad could happen to a friend or loved one
- Worrying that something isn’t finished or perfect (and not being able to let it go)
- Fixating on making sure everything is in order, symmetrical, or done with absolute perfection
- Fear of loss or throwing away something that could be important
- An inability to get seemingly meaningless images, sounds, words, or music “out of your head”
When a person who has OCD experiences an obsession, they engage in a repeated behavior or mental process called a compulsion. This is done in an attempt to alleviate their discomfort. These responses are often excessive and while they might provide some temporary relief, over time they can keep someone from being able to function appropriately at home, work, school, or in relationships.
Some examples of compulsions that a person with OCD might perform include:
- Absolute avoidance of any person, place, or thing they fear may trigger additional obsessions or compulsions
- Chronic, ritualistic hygiene routines (like excessive hand washing)
- Cleaning household items or personal belongings repeatedly
- Fixating on counting or engaging in repetitive tasks
- Repeated attempts to ensure safety (even when no harm is apparent) like unplugging appliances or checking locks, windows, doors, etc.
- Arranging objects in a particular way and experiencing extreme distress when things are not in the preferred order
- Constantly needing reassurance or approval from others
What can I expect when being evaluated by a provider for OCD?
When you’re overwhelmed or struggling, it’s normal to want to find words or labels for what you’re feeling. So if you’re worried that you might have OCD, you may be tempted to self-diagnose using one of the many “OCD tests” you can find online. But remember, having the occasional intrusive thought or being a person who prefers to keep things tidy does not mean that you have OCD.
People who live with OCD experience obsessions and compulsions that seriously impact their quality of life and they typically require treatment to manage their condition. If you think you might have OCD, know that you can get the help you need to heal and the first step is seeking a professional evaluation.
When it comes to getting an OCD diagnosis, an evaluation will typically occur over the course of your first few therapy sessions. Your provider will get to know you and your history, ask you about your triggers and symptoms, and work to understand your strengths and challenges. This is also a time for you to ask questions and share any concerns you might have.
Once your therapist has a better sense of the severity of your symptoms, they’ll consult the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to make a determination as to whether or not you meet the criteria for an OCD diagnosis. They may also evaluate you for other mental health conditions that frequently occur alongside OCD.
Remember, a clinical diagnosis does not define you. But it will help your provider create a treatment plan that reflects your unique situation. And as you progress in treatment, your plan can evolve with you as you gain control of your symptoms or your needs change.
How Path can help with OCD
If you think you might have OCD, talking to a professional can help. Using Path, you can quickly find a therapist who treats OCD and takes your insurance.
Our platform is designed to take the confusion out of accessing treatment and make it easy to attend sessions virtually from the comfort of your home. Plus, with Path, you get access to psychiatric services for medication management (if needed) to ensure effective, collaborative care to support your mental health.
To learn more about getting help for OCD with Path, check out our website.
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