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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD is the name give to a mental health condition where a person experiences uncontrollable and unwanted thoughts and feels compelled to behave in a repetitive and ritualised way. Underneath these thoughts and behaviours is a feeling of acute anxiety that the person does not feel able to handle. Instead there focus in on their thoughts and what they can do in order to control the feeling.

Everybody has times when they feel anxious about not having done something right and goes back to check  on things like the cooker being turned off or the car being locked. These symptoms commonly become exaggerated at times of increased stress such as bereavement and it should not be assumed that they are evidence of OCD.  For someone who experiences the full blown Obsessive Compulsive Disorder these behaviours are extreme and ongoing to a point that daily life is affected quite dramatically.

The obsessive thinking aspect of OCD can be continuous and disturbing because the thoughts can take on a menacing and threatening tone. The compulsive aspect of the disorder is the behaviour that is carried out in an attempt to make the thoughts disappear and whilst acting them out may bring slight relief it is usually very short lived.

The five types of behaviour of OCD

There are five categories of types of behaviour that most people with OCD fit into. These are:

  • Washers – these are people who have an acute fear of contamination and often have cleaning or hand washing compulsions.
  • Checkers – people who repeatedly check that things are as they should be, eg: locked or turned off and there us usually an association of potential harm or danger that is being checked against.
  • Doubters and sinners – this category of OCD refers to people who believe that if everything is not done to perfection something extremely bad will happen.
  • Counters and arrangers – People in this group express their obsession through symmetry, patterns and order. They may have beliefs about certain colours and numbers.
  • Hoarders –  This behaviour relates to a feeling that something bad will happen if they throw anything away and includes hoarding things that there is no apparent need of.

Most people with OCD exhibit both strands of the disorder, the obsessive thinking and the compulsive behaviours but sometimes a person will just have one aspect. The behaviours are easier to spot from the outside because you can observe whether a person is repeatedly returning to check on something or insistent that certain things are laid out in certain ways etc. The thoughts are obviously more private and harder to identify in another person but through conversation you may notice that a person is thinking about cleanliness a lot of the time, or that they are superstitious or very frightened that they are going to be harmed or will harm another. It is a hard condition to self diagnose and if you are concerned about whether you may have OCD it’s important to talk your worries through with your GP or another mental health professional.



Medication is rarely enough on it’s own to help a person overcome their OCD. Research has show that the most successful therapy is called Cognitive Behvioural Therapy which works in two ways. Firstly the therapist will create a situation whereby the person is repeatedly exposed to the source of their obsession and then asked to refrain from the usual compulsive behaviour. An example of this may be if someone washes their hands compulsively they will be asked to touch something they associate as ‘dirty’ like a door handle or money and then asked to resist the compulsion to wash their hands. Instead they will be encouraged to experience the anxiety and overtime learn that they have some control over their behaviour. The second part to the therapy focuses on extreme thought patterns like catastrophising where a person always imagines the worst outcomes to any situations. A CBT therapist will help the person recognise these thought patterns and challenge them rather than believing them and acting compulsively.

If you are close to someone with OCD it is important to focus on the person’s positive qualities rather than your worries about their behaviour and not tell them to stop their compulsions. Try to be as kind and as patient as possible and if you are in a family situation have a chat between all of you and plan how to support the person and at the same time not let the OCD take over family life. Finally, remember to look after yourself equally well as supporting someone with a difficult mental health condition can be a taxing time.








About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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