Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a form of anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions come in the form of intrusive thoughts or mental images, which can cause anxiety and distress. To soothe these obsessions, the person engages in compulsive acts that can become repetitive.
There are many myths about OCD. Many people like to throw the term around whenever they feel like they’ve overdone something or are obsessing about something, particularly about cleanliness. While people with OCD can be germaphobes, can be obsessed with order, or may even repeatedly check on things, OCD can manifest itself in other ways. The danger with these stereotypes is that they can prevent people with OCD from seeking help since they do not fit the mold.
Let’s delve deeper into OCD, particularly what living with it is like and what a person can do to combat the potentially crippling symptoms and ultimately live a decent quality of life.
Living with OCD
Living with OCD, in essence, is like pouring syrup over yourself in a room full of flies. The buzzing of the flies bothers you, and you keep swatting them away to no avail. The flies represent obsessive thoughts. The act of swatting represents compulsive actions, which are not always physical.
For some people living with OCD, the condition is similar to having thoughts of germs, pornography, child abuse, animal abuse, terminal illness, accidents, murder, homosexuality, self-harm, and even moral scruples that run in a loop.
Compulsive actions, as mentioned, are the direct response to obsessive thoughts. For example, someone who has obsessive thoughts about germ contamination may repeatedly wash their hands, clean the house, and their belongings. These ritualistic actions take time and can interfere with your life. Someone who fears germ contamination may also be fearful of people, other objects, and of being in public. Obsessing about avoiding committing a crime, such as murder, may drive you into extreme avoidance of possible murder weapons such as knives, guns, and other sharp objects. Obsession with moral scruples may drive you to seek constant reassurance from priests, repetitive prayers, and going to confession frequently.
Seeking Treatment for OCD
While people living with OCD are not any more dangerous than those who don’t have it, the obsessions and compulsions—as they intensify their hold over the person—can wreak chaos on their lives and relationships. Living with OCD can fill you with a sense of shame and guilt, which explains why many people who have it rather hide their condition and refuse to seek help. Nonetheless, leaving it untreated can also have you live in the same vicious cycle of shame and guilt and cause a rift in your relationships, especially with people who have very little understanding of your condition.
This is why you should seek the intervention of a psychiatrist, who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of the entire range of psychiatric disorders, notably anxiety disorders.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP), a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is the first-line treatment for OCD. The approach is geared toward desensitizing the person to their intrusive thoughts by exposing them to the situations that provoke these thoughts. The ultimate goal of ERP is to free the person from the cycles of obsessions and compulsions, so they can live better.
However, one thing worth considering about ERP is that because the approach itself will trigger the obsessions themselves. The progress comes along letting these obsessions sit there and training yourself to not respond with a compulsion. The whole process itself is challenging, and it takes a good psychiatrist to see you through and have you focus on the importance of enduring the whole thing.
An example of ERP therapy in action is when for instance you have germophobia (fear of germs), your therapist will have you touch a toilet seat and then refrain from washing your hands. This will be extremely anxiety-provoking initially, but as you control yourself from responding to your obsession, the anxiety eventually starts to wane. With practice, you will have better control of your intrusive thoughts, and they will eventually dissipate.
Your psychiatrist may use ERP with mindfulness techniques and medications to help you better manage your condition. Your psychiatrist will likely have you take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) for up to 12 weeks. Experts ascribe OCD to problems in communication between the brain’s deeper structures (which produce serotonin) and its front part. SSRIs normalize these brain circuits and facilitate the healthy production of serotonin, a chemical messenger in the brain responsible for stabilizing the mood and promoting feelings of happiness and well-being.
OCD Treatment in NY and CT
If you suspect that you have OCD, we are here to help. At Psy-Visions, Dr. Mark Stracks is a board-certified psychiatrist who has extensive experience in providing treatment for the full spectrum of anxiety disorders (panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.). We practice compassionate, patient-centered care, and treat each of our patients’ conditions with utmost respect and confidentiality.
If you need more information about our services or would like to make an appointment with Dr. Stracks, call (718) 887-2918 or use our online request form. We offer telepsychiatry services to reduce the need for in-person appointments.