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What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves experiencing upsetting repetitive thoughts (obsessions), which provoke anxiety, and then engaging in ritualistic behaviours (compulsions) in order to decrease that anxiety.

Obsessions can be ideas, images, sensations and/or thoughts that get stuck in your head and repeat themselves. Obsessions are not worries about real life things such as an upcoming exam, they are typically about unrealistic or impossible events, such as getting cancer from touching a door knob. People who have obsessions usually do not want them and find these thoughts distressing.

Compulsions are behaviours that you do repeatedly to either prevent something bad from happening or to decrease the anxiety caused by obsessions. Most of the time, the compulsions do not make sense but they work, for a brief period of time.

How is It Treated?

Research shows that 40% of treatment for OCD involves medications. The other 60% is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) is a form of CBT and is the most effective strategy for managing OCD. It involves exposing yourself to the images, objects and situations that lead to obsessions. Once the anxiety has been triggered, you make the choice not to engage in the compulsion and with time, the anxiety will naturally decrease.

What Can I Expect in a Session?

Sessions generally follow this layout:

  • Review of the previous week
  • Psychoeducation about OCD
  • Skill development
  • Practice ERP
  • Plan homework for the week

Will It Ever Go Away?

With treatment, most people are no longer bothered by OCD symptoms however; it does tend to come and go and you may experience symptoms again in the future. The good news is that if that does occur, you will know what to do.

Exposure Response Prevention