Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Anxious thoughts are often a normal response to a real situation. However if they result in regular, compulsive behaviour they could become a serious issue.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition in which sufferers experience uncontrolled mental or physical urges. Obsessions are recurring thoughts, images or feelings that the person knows to be silly or irrational yet they can’t be stopped.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours triggered by the obsession. They serve to block or neutralise the perceived fear or threat and only give temporary relief. Yet, notphysically doing the compulsive activity can increase anxiety.

  • The World Health Organisation lists OCD as one of the top 10 most debilitating disorders.
  • Nearly 3% of Australians will experience OCD in their lifetime.
  • It is an anxiety disorder and is often linked to other mental health issues such as substance abuse, depression and eating disorders.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can occur in people as young as 6 and can take years to develop.

OCD is not the same as Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). They share some similarities but have notable differences. OCD is a mental illness associated with anxiety. OCPD is a personality disorder defined by extreme perfectionism and rigid thinking.

People with OCPD may have excessive behaviours but are driven more by the need for perfectionism than a burning desire to prevent catastrophe.


What causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

There is no specific cause of OCD however a number of factors can increase the risk of a person developing it.

Biological factors (such as changes in serotonin levels), genetics, environmental influences, stress and strong personality traits are all known to be linked to anxiety and the onset of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It often takes multiple factors to trigger OCD.


What are the signs and symptoms of OCD?

A sufferer may have frequent and distressing thoughts, feelings, or nightmare-like mental images. To avoid or block these obsessions they may develop ritualistic behaviours.

Many of us have routines that we follow such as taking the same daily route to work; however OCD is more likely to be diagnosed when these obsessions or compulsions:

  • Become unpleasant, excessive or unreasonable.
  • Last for an hour or more each day.
  • Affect the person’s daily function to the point of being debilitating.
  • Give no sense of pleasure or satisfaction other than the temporary sense of relief they provide when carried out.
  • Occur even when the person is not clinically depressed.

OCD symptoms fall into several broad categories.

Checking, order and counting

Sufferers often constantly check things like appliances, locks or even children or they may perform tasks in a precise order. They feel that if they don’t then something terrible will happen.

Counting steps or money may give a brief sense of comfort.

Cleanliness and contamination

Unrealistic fears of contamination can lead to constant hand-washing or house cleaning.


Obsessive hoarding is a common symptom of OCD and some consider it to be a separate condition. It may fill an emotional void or sense of deprivation.

Spiritual / Religious

Some compulsions are spiritual such as praying excessively to neutralise ‘bad’ thoughts or being fixated with the afterlife.

Intrusive / Violent

Some obsessions may be quite violent or sexual. These are unlikely to be acted upon as the person generally finds them repugnant.

OCD can affect relationships and self-esteem. Some people develop obsessive thoughts about their body which may lead to other disorders such as eating disorders or Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

These symptoms are only a guide to OCD and do not confirm a diagnosis. If you are worried that you or someone you know may have OCD it is recommended you seek the professional advice.


What are the main treatment options?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be effectively managed with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), medication or a combination of both.


Antidepressants are often used to moderate excessive thoughts and behaviours. They are especially effective when used alongside CBT.


Talking to a professional counsellor/therapist is one of the most effective forms of treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Your counsellor may use talking therapies to create a customised program. The most widely used of these is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is based on the premise that our thoughts govern our behaviour. By changing our thought patterns we can improve our response to challenging situations.

A therapist will help to explore the underlying beliefs that may be causing your condition. Through addressing these negative patterns you can develop new coping strategies to create positive changes in your life.


Why seek professional help?

Mental illness can be frightening and isolating, especially if you are in a depressed or suicidal state. Talking to friends and family may help but having the support and guidance of a professional counsellor is usually more beneficial. Therapy sessions are confidential and non-judgemental. Seeking help early gives you a greater chance of overcoming your condition and getting your life back to normal.


Where to find help

Our directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists, psychologists, counsellors and other therapists from around Australia. These mental health experts offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars. 

Enter your postcode or suburb into our search box to see a comprehensive list of the health care professionals near you.


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