Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Acting Section Author: E. David Klonsky (University of British Columbia)
Original Section Authors 2008-2011: Greg Hajcak and Lisa Starr (Stony Brook University)


Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is defined by the presence of either obsessions or compulsions (typically both occur). Obsessions are defined as recurrent thoughts, images, or impulses that are viewed by the person as intrusive or inappropriate and that invoke anxiety. Obsessions are not simply amplified worries about real life problems; in fact, the person may view them as silly or unrealistic. Examples include worries about being contaminated with dirt or germs, having something awful happen to a loved one, or having made a terrible mistake. The person attempts to ignore, suppress, or neutralize these obsessions, often through compulsions. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the person feels driven to perform. These may include actions such as counting, hand-washing, checking (e.g., locks), ordering, or hoarding things with no sentimental or monetary value.

Psychological Treatments

Note: Other psychological treatments may also be effective in treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but they have not been evaluated with the same scientific rigor as the treatments above. Many medications may also be helpful for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but we do not cover medications in this website. Of course, we recommend a consultation with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and discussion of various treatment options. When you meet with a professional, be sure to work together to establish clear treatment goals and to monitor progress toward those goals. Feel free to print this information and take it with you to discuss your treatment plan with your therapist.