Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an illness that traps people in endless cycles of repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions). Although we all have habits and routines that help us organize our daily lives, people with OCD develop patterns of behavior that take up too much time and interfere with their daily lives. Obsessions are unwanted and intrusive ideas, images and impulses that run through the person’s mind over and over again.
Sometimes these thoughts come only once in a while and are only mildly annoying, but at other times the thoughts come constantly and cause great distress. A compulsion is a behavior that is performed on purpose in response to an obsession. People perform these compulsive behaviors according to “rules” they make up themselves to try to control the nervous feelings that come along with the obsessive thoughts. Sometimes compulsive behaviors are called rituals.
For example, a person may have a profound fear of germs and spend hours washing his or her hands after using a public toilet. Rituals like this do make the nervous feelings go away, but usually only for a short while. Then fear and discomfort return, and the person repeats the routine all over again. Most people with OCD know that their obsessions and compulsions are ridiculous and make no sense, but they can’t ignore them.
Most people with OCD experience common obsessions such as: fear of dirt, germs, or contamination, fear of harming a family member or friend, concern with order, symmetry (balance) and exactness, worry that a task has been done poorly, even when the person knows this is not true. Also fear of thinking evil or sinful thoughts, and A constant need for reassurance are common obsessions. What Causes OCD? OCD may be connected with an imbalance in a brain chemical called serotonin. Serotonin serves as a “bridge” in sending nerve impulses from one nerve cell to the next, and in regulating repetitive behaviors.
The great improvement that people have when they take certain medicines makes this idea more believable. How can OCD be treated? Behavioral therapy can be used to lessen unwanted compulsions. First, people are exposed to the situations that produce obsessions and anxiety, and then they are encouraged to resist performing the rituals that usually help control the anxiety. Over time and with practice, OCD symptoms gradually go away.
The person with OCD must really want to use this method, though, to be able to tolerate the high levels of anxiety that result. Finally, family therapy is a way to educate the relatives of a person with OCD about their part in the recovery process, and how to deal with their own feelings of frustration and unhap