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December 15, 2014
by Marti Wormuth, MA

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

December 15, 2014 07:55 by Marti Wormuth, MA  [About the Author]

Many of us have talked about being "obsessed" over something in our lifetime, but what does that actually mean? There are a lot of definitions floating around, but there are some people in this world where their "obsession" actually becomes something that gets in the way of living a happy, fruitful life. It can be difficult for people to get through these sorts of times in their lives, and they may have some struggle with their obsession. 

This sometimes rears its head in a disorder referred to as "obsessive compulsive disorder," better known to most people as OCD. People who have OCD have a unique issue that they may struggle with, and behaviors that are difficult for them to get under control in a healthy way. In today's post, we're going to take a closer look at what obsessive compulsive disorder is, what the symptoms of the disorder are, and what is being done in the psychological world in order to treat people who are struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder on a daily basis. 

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? 

In short, OCD is an illness that is thought (but has not been proven, as of this point) to have started in the mind and imbalances that exist there. This illness, like many mental illnesses, is exhibited in both thoughts and actions that the person live through on a regular basis. Many people don't realize that OCD is actually listed under anxiety disorders, but as you dig deeper into the disorder, you understand that a lot of it is based in anxious thoughts and feelings and so the classification actually makes a lot of sense.

Someone who is struggling with OCD is going to deal with a number of different thoughts that go through their mind on a regular basis. These thoughts go through the mind and cause the person to worry a lot, and usually, the person who is dealing with the anxious (which are, in and of themselves, obsessive) thoughts and feelings has to do something in order to alleviate them. This is where the compulsion comes into the picture. The compulsion is, in an essence, the "self medication" for the obsessive thoughts that the person is having. The worst part? The person who is having the obsessive thoughts knows that they don't really make a lot of sense, but they are so overwhelming that the person has to do the compulsion in order to find relief from their anxiety issues.

Let me give you an example, one that many of you have likely heard of. A person you know is a bit worried about germs. They think about germs all of the time and worry that they will get germs from other people. But they go above and beyond "the norm." They carry hand sanitizer with them everywhere that they go and use it obsessively. They wash their hands so often that they have become raw. If they become dirty at all they feel as if they are going to have a nervous breakdown. They may take multiple showers, even if they are going to just rinse off, and if you want them to go camping there better be showers or they aren't going to be able to handle it. It can be very stressful and upsetting to them. 

That's OCD - they have this constant thought and worry about germs, which are going to make them get sick or that they are going to get a disease that they are going to die from, and they have to continually wash themselves in order to feel like they are clean and free of the germs that "plague" them on a regular basis. It's really irritating for them, it makes it hard for them to stay healthy, it causes them undue stress that they really shouldn't have to deal with, and it controls their life in a way that they don't even really understand. OCD affects millions of people in different ways, and many times, it is paired up with other anxiety disorders. 

How is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Treated?

As with any disorder, the treatment is going to vary depending on the person that is being treated and how severe the disorder may be for them to live with and work through. In this section, I will do my best to outline some of the treatments that are being used and how they are being utilized in today's OCD patients. Some of these treatments are incredibly effective for some people, whereas some of them will only work in certain circumstances. Your mental health professional will be able to give you the best idea of what needs to happen in order for you to progress with the disorder. 

Behavioral Therapy. Behavioral therapy, or psychotherapy, is the most common type of treatment for OCD that is out there currently. There are a lot of behaviors that have to change in order for a person to be able to overcome OCD, and the extremeness of the disorder may have been exacerbated by events that happened in the person's life when they were younger. That being said, it takes a lot of time and effort to go through behavioral therapy, and it can end up being relatively stressful for the person that is involved in the therapy at the time. Sometimes the therapy can take an extended period of time in order for the client to be able to function properly. 

Exposure and Response Prevention. This is a specific type of psychotherapy that is specifically for those with compulsions (whether from OCD or from other behaviors). What will happen is that the therapist will put the person into a situation that would normally trigger the obsessive thoughts and teach the client how to deal with the thoughts in a healthy way in the safe, controlled environment of the office or wherever else they may be. It could involve any number of things, but it normally puts them in a situation where their normal reaction would be to go for the compulsion. The therapist then helps the person to go through a thought process in order to try and stop them from immediately going through the compulsion. Instead of going toward the compulsive behavior, this exposure therapy makes it so that they replace the compulsion with something more logical, and that the anxiety down't overcome them when they are trying to function in their normal life. This can be quite stressful, and like behavioral therapy, can take awhile, but it's been found to be incredibly effective. 

Medication. This is one of those "last resorts," but at the same time, with more severe OCD it is necessary for the person to get the help that they need through medication. Many of the medications that are prescribed for OCD are ones that are usually prescribed for regular anxiety disorders as well. As with any medication, you will want to watch what is going on with your body during this time. There are a lot of changes that are going on and it's important to understand what the side effects may be if you are taking these medications. Almost always, medication will be combined with one of the above treatment plans for maximum effectiveness so that the person who is suffering from OCD will be better able to deal with their anxious thoughts and feelings in the long run. Your doctor can give you the information that you need about the medication that you are going to be using if you have any concerns about it. 

Meditation and other holistic care. Lastly, there are a number of holistic options that are out there for OCD, and many of them are also the same as for anxiety. These can include breathing exercises, meditation, clearing the mind, and taking supplements. Do not ever get involved with these sorts of treatments without the recommendation of a professional, and make sure that you are doing them alongside the treatment that you are getting as well. It's about taking care of your whole self, and by adding holistic or alternative medicine to your regimen, you may discover that the treatment is more effective. You will just have to see what works best for you and your needs. 

It is important to remember that there is currently no "cure" for OCD, much like there is no cure for other anxiety disorders that are out there. The best that we can currently do with OCD and other anxiety disorders to to make sure that they don't put a huge damper on the life that we are trying to live. By getting these disorders under control in some way, it will be much easier for the OCD client to not have to deal with the detrimental behavior that can come with their compulsions on a regular basis. It can also help to reduce stress and make the anxiety symptoms that are usually associated with OCD to be that much less in the long run. 

Some people who struggle with OCD try to go through the symptoms without any help from a professional. While yes, some people with OCD can get the disorder under control on their own, some people will need more help than that in order to be able to live a normal life while dealing with the disorder. Professional therapists have been trained to help those living with OCD to be able to move forward with their lives in a healthy way. Consider using the resources that we have here on the site in order to find a therapist that can help you or your loved one work through the implications of having OCD so that you can enjoy your life again. Don't try to go through it alone - there are plenty of resources that you can use in order to get the help that you need. 


Goodman, W. (2006). What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Retrieved August 7, 2014, from

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2013, August 9). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Retrieved August 7, 2014, from

MedicineNet, Inc. (2012, October 3). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Get Facts on Anxiety Problems. Retrieved August 7, 2014, from

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD. Retrieved August 7, 2014, from

Storrs, C. (2013, June 11). 10 signs you may have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Retrieved August 7, 2014, from

About the Author

Marti Wormuth, MA Marti Wormuth, MA

Marti has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and a Master’s in Communication Studies. Her favorite activities include reading, playing games, and hanging out with the students at her church. Marti volunteers with the youth ministry at her church as a teacher and mentor. Because of this, she recently started another degree, her graduate certificate in student ministries. She considers her current graduate work to be a stepping stone to becoming a youth pastor or a published author.

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