What Is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a specific disorder involving distressing, obsessive thoughts and being driven to do what feel like “forced,” compulsive behaviors.
OCD often has themes, such as an intense fear of germs and dirt, or a need for symmetry and order. As with most mental illnesses, OCD can occur alongside other disorders and there are varying degrees of severity. If you are wondering, “Do I have OCD?” you should speak with a qualified mental health professional.
According to the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
, or DSM-5
—a reference commonly used by mental health professionals in the US—it’s possible you might additionally experience OCD symptoms such as:
- Recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced as unwanted and that cause anxiety or distress
- Use of a specific thought or action to neutralize the recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images
- Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing and order checking, or mental acts such as praying and counting, which you feel driven to perform in response to an obsession, according to rules that must be applied rigidly
- Belief that the behaviors or mental acts will reduce or prevent distress, even when they are clearly excessive or not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent
While there is no single answer to what causes OCD, both genetic and environmental factors appear to play a role. For example, you may be more likely to develop OCD if you have a close relative such as a parent, sibling, or child who has OCD, or if you experienced childhood trauma or other early adversity.
How common is OCD? The statistics tell us that in the US alone, 2 to 3 million adults struggle with the condition. As for how to know if you have OCD, when obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors like the ones described above interfere significantly with your daily routines and ability to live your life, you may be a candidate for OCD treatment.
Our Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
At the Austen Riggs Center, we have successfully helped many patients with OCD symptoms. In fact, we are known as the place “where treatment-resistant patients become people taking charge of their lives.”
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, like other mental illnesses, arises from a complex and highly personal interplay of biology, social stress, and psychological factors. At Riggs, the whole person is the focus of the treatment, not simply discrete symptoms. We work with you as a person with your own unique life story and your own problems and strengths.
For many individuals with OCD, the symptoms are a disabling problem that started out as a solution—a way to ward off dangers and fears that may be outside awareness. Grappling with underlying fears is often part of Riggs treatment of OCD, along with efforts to suppress symptoms. Psychotherapy of OCD generally includes some kind of “exposure and response prevention” related to the underlying theme, like fear of contamination. Our form of exposure and response prevention usually occurs in the individual psychotherapy. Once that relationship feels safe enough, we pay careful attention to experiences that emerge in the individual and in the treatment relationship that link to OCD symptoms.
Our treatment approach centers on intensive psychodynamic psychotherapy four times a week with a doctoral-level therapist, exploring your lived experiences to identify patterns and the potential impact of losses or other adverse experiences that may be outside your awareness but that influence your decision making. Through this deeper self-understanding, you can be freer to make better choices.
To augment regular psychotherapy sessions, OCD medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often part of the treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder at Riggs. We have been trailblazers in developing what we call psychodynamic psychopharmacology, a way of using medications for their biochemical benefit, while also carefully attending to the impact of their meanings to the patient and to the doctor.
Family is often part of the social context in which symptoms of OCD may emerge. So an important part of every treatment at Riggs is family evaluation—with family treatment
offered when indicated.
In addition to therapy and medications, our open setting with its Therapeutic Community Program
mobilizes the powerful potential of social learning through interactions with peers—a profound opportunity to learn about aspects of ourselves that we cannot see but that others can help us see and address.