Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, takes the form of recurrent, intrusive, and distressing thoughts, images, or impulses that, despite our best efforts to ignore of suppress, we simply cannot stop. People with OCD recognize their obsessional thoughts are excessive, or irrational, and the product of their own mind–but still continue to have the intrusive thoughts, no matter how much logic and reason they apply. In an effort to neutralize or quiet obsessions, they engage in compulsions–repetitive behaviors like hand washing, counting, ordering, checking, praying, touching things, or “thinking a good thought” to counter a “bad one.” Compulsions are intended to reduce stress, or prevent something “bad” from happening. While this temporarily relieves tension, distress inevitably returns, often stronger than it was before. Thus, while compulsions are well-intended efforts to solve the problem, they ultimately cause more harmful long-term consequences, and entrench us in OCD more deeply than we were before. In a sense, we become addicted to the short-term “fix” of ritualizing, and grow exponentially more dependent on it as a means of coping with distress. Our rituals get more complex and time-consuming, and our world gets smaller and smaller.
The most important thing to know about OCD is that we have effective solutions. I frequently see people who have suffered for decades who are completely unaware that there are clinically proven, effective treatments for OCD. Clients can often come off medications completely. You can get help; it’s not easy, but neither is living with OCD. I encourage people to think about it this way: having, maintaining, and accommodating OCD is a full-time job, and a miserable one. If you’re going to put that much effort into something, work in the direction of a lasting, effective solution. In my view, short-term discomfort in therapy is vastly preferable to the lifetime of limitations unhappiness that result from living with OCD.