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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition in which a person has obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviours.

It is distressing and significantly interferes with your life. However, CBT can help you keep it under control.

It affects men, women and children and can develop at any age. Some people develop the condition early, often around puberty, but it typically develops during early adulthood.

“I started rituals when I was 9 years old. It’s been good to meet people who understand.”

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  • What is it?
  • Common Symptoms
  • How Let's Talk can help
Almost everyone has unpleasant or unwanted thoughts at some point, for example, thinking you have left the iron on, or even sudden offensive mental images.

But if you have a persistent, unpleasant thought that dominates your thinking to the extent it interrupts other thoughts, you may have OCD.

If you have OCD, you’ll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and the compulsion to behave or think in certain ways.

  • An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.
  • A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to carry out to try to bring you some relief from the unpleasant feelings.

For example, someone with an obsessive fear that they are a bad person and could cause harm to others, may feel they need to say a prayer each time they have a critical thought about someone else. Or, if you fear that your house will be burgled, you may repeatedly check all the windows and doors at night or before leaving the house.

Many factors may cause OCD, including a family history of OCD, family background, chemical changes in your brain, a history of difficult life events, and particular personality traits. What we know for sure is that our behaviour can maintain the problem so psychological treatment aims to interrupt any unhelpful patterns.

Some common obsessions that affect people with OCD include:

  • fear of deliberately harming yourself or others – for example, fear you may attack someone else, such as your children
  • fear of harming yourself or others by mistake – for example, fear you may set the house on fire by leaving the cooker on
  • fear of contamination by disease, infection or an unpleasant substance
  • a need for symmetry or orderliness – for example, you may feel the need to ensure all the labels on the tins in your cupboard face the same way

You may have obsessive thoughts of a violent or sexual nature that you find repulsive or frightening. But they’re just thoughts and having them doesn’t mean you’ll act on them.

Compulsions are our way of trying to cope with our anxiety For example, a person who fears contamination from germs may wash their hands repeatedly. Someone with a fear of hurting someone else may repeat an action such as shaking their head and saying “no”, in an attempt to ‘neutralise’ the thought and get some temporary relief. It, in fact, maintains the anxiety.

Common types of compulsive behaviour in people with OCD include:

  • cleaning and hand washing
  • checking
  • counting
  • ordering and arranging
  • hoarding
  • asking for reassurance
  • repeating words
  • thinking ‘neutralising’ thoughts
  • avoiding places and situations that might trigger obsessive thoughts

At Let’s Talk we will assess your needs and offer you the appropriate treatment to help you to get back on track. The help we offer may include self-help,  attending a course, individual guided self-help over the telephone or face-to-face therapy sessions. You may also be advised by your GP to consider anti-depressant medication.

Psychological help will aim at helping you understand your OCD and break unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving. In this way, you can learn to manage the OCD symptoms much better so that it does not have such a significant impact on your life.

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Further reading and resources – OCD

Further reading and resources