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What are the symptoms of OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) consists of intrusive thoughts so terrifying that clients become debilitated in their efforts to neutralize them. The obsessions are intrusive and persistent thoughts, images and urges. The thoughts may concern danger, contamination, or reckless activity. The client fears them, tries to suppress them, but the fear of these thoughts lead to increased frequency, intensity, and duration. Clients develop a catastrophic view of these intrusions. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors, mental acts, or rules. They may involve activities like hand washing, checking, ordering, counting, or repeating words internally. They serve to temporarily eliminate these intrusions, but ultimately lead to more obsessions.

How common is OCD?1

About 1.2% of the population evidences a 12-month prevalence of obsessive compulsive disorder. It is slightly more common in females in adulthood, and slightly more common in males in childhood.

What is CBT treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder like?

For all disorders, the CBT therapist starts by educating clients about their diagnosis, helps them set goals, and socializes them to CBT by teaching them essential thinking and behavioral skills. Treatment of obsessions involves testing the client’s catastrophic beliefs about them. They may believe, for example, that their intrusions means they are bad, out of control, or defective. They may fear the intensity of their obsessive thinking could rise infinitely high, or last infinitely long. They may even fear that thinking something awful is as bad as doing something awful. They may believe the distress from having these thoughts is intolerable. They may also place undue weight on the significance of these thoughts. The CBT therapist works with the client to develop ways to test and modify these beliefs. Clients learn how to prevent themselves from responding to obsessions with compulsive behavior. When clients reduce their compulsions, accept the urges, and engage in pleasurable and productive activity, their anxiety and the degree of belief in their obsessions reduces.

For health and mental health professionals

Learn to treat OCD more effectively at our CBT for Anxiety workshop. 1American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.744053