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If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may suffer from OCD – or obsessive-compulsive disorder. This illness is not rare; it affects at least four million adults in the United States and is the fourth most common psychiatric illness in this country.

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OCD is a disorder that is often progressive and can become crippling. Some OCD sufferers never leave their homes because of the various rituals they need to perform. Others can’t function at work because they spend so much time secretly engaged in various rituals. 

Many obsessive thoughts and rituals are completely mental, not physical, so the illness can be almost invisible to everyone close to the person affected.   

As the name suggests, OCD has two parts: obsessions and compulsions.  Many people suffer from obsessions only, but a good number eventually develop compulsions.

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Obsessions are the thoughts, ideas, or impulses that repeatedly well up in the mind of the person with OCD. They may feel a need to do things almost too perfectly, an unreasonable concern about becoming contaminated by germs, or a persistent fear that harm may come to themselves or loved ones.


Compulsions are the behaviors that are done in reaction to this thinking, usually to try to gain some control over the uncontrollable. Following a behavioral routine gives the sufferer temporary relief through a false belief that the ritual can ensure that something unwanted will not happen. 

Usually, the person with OCD is fully aware that their thinking is irrational, but this does little to stop the behavior.  The obsessions and compulsions often lead to an unbreakable cycle including severe anxiety.

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Most people experience obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors at one time or another, but the actual disorder of OCD is not present until the thoughts and rituals have become dominant features in their lives and some aspect of the person’s work, family, or social life is affected.  

Once the full criterion is met, OCD will often not go away, and therapy is needed before there are irreversible effects on a person’s social, academic, or work life. 

The good news about OCD is that it has a very positive prognosis – OCD is very easily overcome through therapy.  Most therapists use what is called cognitive behavioral therapy to bring about relief from OCD symptoms. Clients learn to monitor their thoughts and recognize the connection between their thinking, feeling, and behavior.

The therapist acts as a “behavioral coach” and often gives a lot of homework between sessions. Progress can be slow, but gradually clients learn to separate their thoughts from their behaviors. Once behavior changes even a little bit, there is a strong likelihood that things will get much better sooner than later. You’ll come away with a toolbox you can use to manage your symptoms in real time!

The bad news is that the isolation, embarrassment, and self-loathing caused by OCD can prevent some people from seeking help. They may be afraid that their thoughts or compulsions are so “crazy” that they’ll get laughed at or labeled as strange.  

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If you suspect you are suffering from OCD, consider finding a therapist. Be confident that they know that this problem is unpreventable and biological, just like an allergy or sight impairment.  You don’t have to be a prisoner of OCD.

The combination of therapy, sometimes along with medication, usually provides effective treatment. You can make a life-changing decision by recognizing the problem and having the courage to seek help. 

 You are not alone if you suffer from OCD, even though you may suffer in silence. Therapy can truly help and give you the resources to stave off relapses should they begin to come on in the future.

In fact, cognitive behavioral therapy often provides tips and techniques you can use to manage many kinds of anxiety, so it can often have lasting effects beyond OCD.

Dr. Alan Jacobson is a Licensed Psychologist who has been in practice for over 20 years. He has helped many adolescents and adults who suffer from OCD and other challenges with anxiety.

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