Lauren Stevenson, PsyD., Director
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by obsessions (repeated thoughts or images) and compulsions (behaviors designed to alleviate the negative thoughts and associated anxiety). While many people experience obsessive thoughts and certain compulsive behaviors, people with OCD experience a degree of interference with daily functioning because of the symptoms that significantly gets in the way of their life.
To summarize, the frequent upsetting thoughts are called obsessions. To try to control them, a person will feel an overwhelming urge to repeat certain rituals or behaviors, which are called compulsions. Sometimes it is difficult to identify compulsions, as sometimes it can take the form of avoidance or mental routines, such as saying special phrases, prayers, or specific statements which are believed to "neutralize" the upsetting thoughts. People with OCD have a very difficult time or are unable to control these obsessions and compulsions.
People with OCD generally:
Exposure therapy is a highly effective treatment for OCD. It is used to slowly expose clients to the feared obsession, situation, or object, which allows the body to learn that anxiety will subside through habituation (repeated exposure), and that the anxiety experienced is actually tolerable. Most people don't allow themselves the ability to learn that on their own because they continuously avoid the feared situation. CBT exposure therapy also helps retrain a person's thoughts and routines so that compulsive behaviors are no longer necessary.
The goals is not to eliminate anxiety, as anxiety is an important emotion that alerts us to danger - but rather, to help people learn how to accurately interpret situations and to no longer avoid situations that make them uncomfortable, especially when such situations are vital to daily life, such as driving, leaving the house, or interacting socially with others.