Demystifying OCD

Not a Personality Trait

The often-heard phrase, “I’m so OCD” is discouraging and invalidating to individuals who are diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And it misses just how severe symptoms can be. According to the International OCD Foundation, people with OCD are not “quirky,” “eccentric,” or “crazy.” The symptoms of this disorder are real and consequential for millions of Americans.

Not Just About Cleaning

  • OCD is a mental health condition characterized by intrusive, distressing thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) that temporarily relieve anxiety and distress.
  • There are a range of OCD symptoms. It is not always about contamination or a need for order. Obsessions can be about a fear of “going crazy,” a fear of hurting others, sexual or taboo themes, or concerns about not being “holy enough.” For more information, see https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/subtypes-of-ocd/
  • Compulsions can include checking, repeating, counting, avoiding, researching, reassurance seeking, and rumination.

Knowledge is Power

  • OCD affects 2 to 3 million adults, and half a million youth in the United States.
  • There are differences in the brain structure and chemistry of individuals with OCD that influence the way they think and behave.
  • Recovery from OCD is possible through evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Because OCD is both behavioral and biological, it is beneficial for individuals to seek medical treatment in addition to therapy.

Recovery Is Possible

  • If you think you have OCD, it is important for you to know that recovery is possible, and you don’t have to do it alone.
  • Working with a trained therapist is fundamental to recovery. The therapists at The OCD Clinics have extensive training through the International OCD Foundation’s Behavior Therapy Training Institute.
  • The best treatment for OCD is a type of therapy called Exposure Response Prevention (ERP). In simple terms, ERP is about facing your fears and changing your typical response to anxiety and discomfort.
  • Facing your fears can be overwhelming. Our therapists meet you where you are and teach coping and grounding skills to ensure success in the process.
  • We work with clients to identify unhelpful thinking patterns that fuel OCD. Here are some examples:
    • “I must have absolute certainty.”
    • “My thoughts are significant and important. I must do something about them.”
    • “It is my responsibility to continue my rituals to prevent harm.”
    • “I cannot tolerate anxiety or discomfort.”
  • The therapy process helps you to uncover what is at the root of your fears. This is a radical strategy because it can help you “see through” the lies that OCD tells you. Some root fears include:
    • “I am afraid that I do not belong.”
    • “I am afraid that I am defective.”
    • “I am afraid that I am not a good person.”
    • “I am afraid that there is no purpose to my life.”
  • OCD only wins when we believe the lies are true. Therapy can help us find the courage to reassert our own inner authority by learning to trust our deepest self.

Hope and Healing

  • One of the questions that we often ask in our OCD support group is, “What is my life beyond OCD?” This question is an important part of any recovery journey.
  • Facing our fears is a significant part of the treatment. And just as important is identifying what is most important to us.
  • When we begin to commit to small actions in the service of what we care about the most, we are reminded of what gives life purpose, richness, and vitality.
  • Having OCD is challenging. Having a professional therapist guide you through the process is fundamental.
  • Self-compassion is a key aspect of treatment. Beating ourselves up does not help (research demonstrates this). Self-compassion involves acknowledging our pain, realizing that we are not alone, nurturing ourselves, and taking action.
  • How will you answer the question, “What is my life beyond OCD?”

References and Resources

Abramowitz, Jonathan (2024). List of Cognitive Distortions in OCD. http://www.jabramowitz.com/resources-and-free-stuff.html
The Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (2024). The Six Core Processes of ACT.https://contextualscience.org/the_six_core_processes_of_act
The International OCD Foundation (2024). “I’m Soooo OCD” + Other Common Myths About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/OCDMyth-Handout-092313.pdf
The International OCD Foundation (2024) Subtypes of OCD. https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/subtypes-of-ocd/
Neff, Kristen (2024). Definition of Self-Compassion. https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/