Obsessive-compulsive disorder: what is it like to treat OCD?

Mental disorders can bring great suffering and difficulties to the lives of people affected. Listed in ICD-10 by code F42, obsessive-compulsive disorder or just OCD is one of the conditions that, after diagnosis, must be monitored by specialist professionals


What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, is a mental disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions that bring significant suffering to the individual’s life, damaging his interpersonal relationships, career, studies, among others.

The chart is listed by the World Health Organization as one of the top 10 causes of disability for people.

Obsessions are inconvenient thoughts, mental images, ideas and impulses that occur in an unwanted way, are intrusive and cause anxiety .

Compulsions, also called rituals, are behaviors or mental acts that the person performs to relieve anxiety caused by obsessions.

Most of the obsessions present in TOC are related to concerns about damages and risks, having a certain relationship with reality. For example, a common one is the fear of being contaminated with microorganisms present in different places in everyday life.

Contamination is a real risk, but the person suffering from OCD has an irrational fear of it, which takes on unrealistic proportions.

In order to deal with the anxiety caused by the condition, the person can wash his hands very frequently, avoid touching objects shared with other people, such as door handles, and cleaning surfaces more frequently than necessary, among others.

It is possible to see that the obsession has a base of truth, but that the fear is exaggerated and irrational. Compulsions seek to relieve anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts, but this relief lasts for a short time, causing the person to perform compulsions again in short periods of time.

In some cases, they have no logical connection to obsession, such as the urge to arrange things symmetrically or to avoid stepping on lines on tile floors, for example.

Most people who suffer with OCD know that their obsessions are unrealistic and the rituals performed are excessive, but some do not have this notion and are able to justify, at least for themselves, the thoughts and compulsions that they perform.

The presence of comorbidities is very common in the case of people with OCD.

About 75% of people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder also suffer from some anxiety disorder, 50% to 60% suffer from major depressive disorder and about 30% are also diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. The presence of tics is also frequent.

Symptoms of OCD may begin as early as childhood, but they are often confused with normal age manias, and therefore the diagnosis is usually made many years later. On average, it occurs in people just over 18 years of age.

What Causes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Researchers and researchers have not yet found a specific cause for obsessive-compulsive disorder, but many believe in a failure in the interaction between genetic and environmental factors.

A family history of OCD increases a person’s chances of developing the disorder, especially in cases where it has already manifested during childhood or adolescence.

How do I know if I have obsessive-compulsive disorder?

The only way to know for sure if you can suffer from OCD is to go to a psychiatrist , who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, being able to properly diagnose a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Some characteristics that can help the psychiatrist to make the diagnosis are:

  • Investment of more than 1 hour a day in rituals and compulsions;
  • Presence of significant distress;
  • Obsessions and compulsions interfere significantly in the person’s functional capacity, that is, they have difficulties in maintaining interpersonal relationships, career difficulties, among others.

Some highly perfectionist and organized people may suspect OCD, but an assessment by a psychiatrist is important to determine if this is the case. Often, the person may even have this “mania of organization”, but this is not necessarily pathological.

A determining factor for the diagnosis is the long time invested in compulsions, which significantly interferes with the individual’s professional, academic and social life.

In addition, there is the possibility of the person developing avoidance behaviors , that is, avoiding situations that can trigger their rituals. In this sense, a person with cleaning OCD, for example, can avoid leaving home to avoid contact with other people or objects that may be contaminated.

This type of behavior can be so extreme that she is unable to keep a job, friendships, among others.

It is worth remembering that it is not necessary for the person to have both obsessions and compulsions, just one of the factors is enough for the diagnosis .

Types of OCD: what are the most common compulsive behaviors?

The obsessions and compulsions that appear in OCD are diverse and each person can have a series of unique symptoms. However, there are some themes that are recurrent in the manifestation of the disorder, such as cleaning OCD, taboo, among others. Understand:

Contamination and cleaning

One of the most recurring themes is the fear of contamination, accompanied by compulsions of cleaning. The person is often concerned about the possibility of being contaminated by a microorganism and therefore needs to clean himself frequently.

Compulsions of this type include washing hands excessively frequently, carrying handkerchiefs to clean public surfaces (such as door handles, for example), hand washing after greeting a person, among others.

Forbidden thoughts

Another recurring theme is taboos, that is, thoughts that are not socially acceptable. The individual may have obsessive thoughts related to aggression, sex, religion, among other subjects that are considered taboo.

In such cases, it is common that there are no apparent compulsions, with more frequent mental acts such as making calculations, reciting personal mantras, among others.


Symmetry obsessions often manifest themselves as intense anguish when seeing things disorganized, eventually there is a feeling that something bad can happen if the person does not put everything in order.

This type of obsession usually accompanies compulsions of organization and counting, causing the person to organize objects – which extends to other contexts, not just to the home itself – and to be distressed if the number of objects is different from what he considers appropriate.

An example is those people who can only leave the volume of the television in multiples of 5, or need to buy everything in pairs.

Injuries and compulsion for checking

OCD for injuries refers to the presence of obsessions associated with risks, such as the fear of forgetting to turn on the iron, which results in a fire, or the fear of having left doors and windows open and this increases the likelihood of a home invasion, for example.

This type of obsession generates compulsions of checking, that is, the person checks several times to ensure that everything is in order.

Before leaving the house, the person checks the stove 30 times to make sure that no mouth is left open and that there is no gas leak, or unlocks and locks the door several times to make sure the door is properly locked.

Often, people with this type of compulsion are late for their appointments, as they have a hard time leaving the house without wasting too much time checking things out.

OCD Treatments

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Treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder can be done in two ways: pharmacological treatment and psychotherapeutic treatment. In general, most people benefit from a combination of the two treatments, but there are cases and cases.

Pharmacological treatment is usually done with antidesapressants that inhibit the reuptake of serotonin , such as fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, sertraline, among others. However, the existence of comorbidities, common in cases of OCD, can influence the drugs indicated for each case and, therefore, the proper evaluation of a psychiatrist is essential.

Psychotherapeutic treatment, on the other hand, is more focused on a cognitive-behavioral approach, which aims to change the individual’s patterns of thinking and behavior.

Techniques are used to monitor and decrease the frequency of obsessive thoughts, as well as techniques to prevent the performance of rituals to decrease the frequency of compulsions.

Techniques for preventing rituals are based on exposure to anxiogenic situations while there is an impediment to performing the ritual.

At first, this therapy can cause a lot of discomfort, but over time, after repeated exposure to these situations, the person stops associating this discomfort with the need to perform the rituals, decreasing its frequency.

OCD is among the mental conditions that can affect the quality of life of patients, although the symptoms and intensity of the symptoms can be quite varied between each person.

Therefore, having medical monitoring and maintaining proper treatment helps to maintain well-being. Want to know more tips on mental health , well-being and quality of life? Follow the Healthy Minute!