Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-Compulsive and related disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder, hoarding disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), and excoriation (skin-picking) disorder. Often called the doubting disease, OCD is typically characterized by the presence of obsessions and compulsions that the individual finds difficult to control.

Obsessions and Compulsions

Obsessions are characterized as unwanted intrusive thoughts, urges, images, or impulses. Common obsessions include a need for cleanliness, concerns over germs, fear of doing something blasphemous or causing harm to others, and a need for symmetry or to do things “the right way.” Individuals with obsessions often perform compulsive behaviors to reduce fears associated with their obsessions. Compulsions, also known as “rituals,” are repeated actions or thought patterns that are intended to rid troublesome obsessions. Common compulsions include: excessive washing or cleaning, checking behavior (e.g., repeatedly looking to see if the oven is turned off), repeating behaviors (e.g., switching a light switch 15 times), mental rituals (e.g., repeating phrases or numbers), and organizing possessions in a set pattern (e.g., color-coordinating items of clothing).

The related Disorders:

Some other disorders included in this category are also characterized by preoccupations and by repetitive behaviors or mental acts in response to those preoccupations. Others are characterized primarily by recurrent body-focused repetitive behavior (e.g., hair pulling, skin-picking) and repeated attempts to decrease or stop the behaviors.

Occurrence of the Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive  disorders occurs gradually in both adults and children or adolescents and has a chronic course. Boys most commonly develop Obsessive-Compulsive  disorders in childhood while girls typically develop Obsessive-Compulsive  disorders in early adulthood. Obsessive-Compulsive  disorders has a genetic component and is heritable. People with the disorder often have family members with Obsessive-Compulsive  disorders and other anxiety problems. Learning and life stress also contribute to the development of the disorder. Most people have thoughts similar to the thoughts that bother people with Obsessive-Compulsive  disorders; however, people who have Obsessive-Compulsive  disorders are more bothered by these thoughts. They then try to avoid them or develop compulsions to neutralize them. The avoidance and compulsions make the thoughts stronger.


There are two main treatments that can be helpful for individuals with OCD. These treatments do not cure OCD, but they do help to manage and reduce the symptoms and to improve quality of life. These treatments may also be used along with other therapies or medications in some cases (another disorder, side effects, etc.). The most common and effective types of treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder are:

  1. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

ERP is a type of Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT). It helps those with OCD gradually face their fear or distress while resisting their compulsions. ERP works very well for most people and had long lasting benefits. That is why it is considered the first line treatment for OCD. Treatment may be done on your own (self-help books), one to one with a therapist or in group settings. It is usually helpful to involve family members in treatment.

  1. Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SRIs)

SRIs are a type of medication that helps to reduce the intensity of OCD symptoms. It is recommended that SRIs be used along with ERP when an individual has severe symptoms.