Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are persistent, intrusive, unwanted thoughts, images or impulses that the person recognizes as irrational, senseless, intrusive or inappropriate but is unable to control. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours, which the person performs in order to reduce anxiety associated with an obsession. Examples of these are counting, touching, washing and checking.

Both can be of such intensity that they cause a great deal of distress and significantly interfere with the person’s daily functioning. Obsessions are different from psychotic thoughts because the person knows that they are their own thoughts (not put inside their head by some external force) and the person does not want to have the thoughts.

Compulsions are different from psychotic behaviours because the person knows why he/she is doing the activity and can usually say why they are doing them.

Who is at risk for developing OCD?

OCD often begins in adolescence or early adulthood, although it can start in childhood. It affects both men and women. First-degree relatives of people with OCD are more likely to develop OCD.

What does OCD look like?

OCD should not be confused with superstitions or those repetitive checking behaviours that are common in everyday life. They are also not simply excessive worries about real life issues. A person with OCD will have significant symptoms of either obsessions or compulsions or both. These symptoms will be severe enough to cause marked distress, are time consuming (take up more than one hour per day) and significantly interfere with a person’s normal activities (work, school, social, family, etc.).


  • Recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses or images that are experienced as intrusive and not appropriate and cause significant distress or anxiety
  • These symptoms cannot be simply excessive worries about everyday life
  • The person with these symptoms tries to suppress or ignore them. The person may try to neutralize, decrease or suppress the thoughts with some other thought or action.
  • The person knows that the thoughts are coming from his/her own mind


  • Repetitive behaviours (such as checking, washing, ordering) or mental acts (such as counting, praying, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rigid rules
  • These behaviours or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation BUT are not realistically connected to the obsessions they are meant to neutralize .

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