Lauren Stevenson, PsyD., Director
Pasadena, CA

Capstone Psychological Services


What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

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.

What are the signs and symptoms of OCD?

People with OCD generally:

  • Have repeated thoughts or images about many different things, such as fear of germs, dirt, or intruders; acts of violence; hurting loved ones; sexual acts; conflicts with religious beliefs; or being overly tidy
  • Do the same rituals over and over such as washing hands, locking and unlocking doors, counting, keeping unneeded items, or repeating the same steps again and again
  • Can't control the unwanted thoughts and behaviors
  • Don't get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but get brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause
                            (National Institute of Mental Health)

Treatment Approach

​​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.

National Institute of Mental Health Link

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder