Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Have you ever heard someone jokingly describe themselves as "a little OCD" about something? More than likely that person was referring to their desire for orderliness or cleanliness, or to have things be a particular way. They were less likely to be referring to suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, since people who struggle with OCD tend to find little humour in the experience.

Until recently, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (or OCD) was considered a particular form of Anxiety Disorder. In the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5, considered the 'bible' for mental health diagnosis), OCD and related disorders including Hoarding Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Trichotillomania and Excoriation (Skin Picking), are grouped together as a separate chapter. This is in part to reflect the commonalities among these disorders, and to highlight the features that differentiate them from Anxiety disorders.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by the presence of intrusive unwanted thoughts (obsessions), and repetitive behaviours or rituals (compulsions) that one feels driven to perform in order to decrease the anxiety created by the obsessions.

Obsessions can take many forms (and usually take the form that would be most repellant or upsetting to the thinker), including:

  • fear of contamination or of contaminating others
  • fear of causing harm to self or others
  • fears related to sexual thoughts or desires
  • fears related to moral concerns (being a 'good' person or a 'bad' person)
  • fears related to perfectionism or superstition


The compulsions that temporarily relieve the anxiety caused by obsessions also take many forms, including excessive hand-washing, repetitive checking, counting or organizing, and reassurance seeking (from medical professionals or trusted friends and family). Although performing the compulsions brings some relief, the cycle soon starts up again as the obsessive-compulsive looping begins another round.


Much like Depression, OCD is a multi-faceted disorder that is influenced by (and impacts upon) biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors. Effective treatment for OCD addresses all of these, and often includes the use of medication as well as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and the exploration of Existential concerns.

For many sufferers, OCD represents the illusion of control, safety, and certainty in an unpredictable world. Therapy supports coping with the fear and vulnerability that surfaces when we let go of that illusion, and learn to bear the anxiety that comes with living a conscious life.



Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.

- Henry Adams



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