Obsessive-compulsive Disorder

Believing that the load of laundry she just washed is still dirty, Maria washes it again. And again. And again.

Every time Jason leaves his house he locks – and relocks – the door five times. If he doesn’t he believes that bad will happen to his home.

Maria and Jason both suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). More than 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with the illness which, in its most severe form, prevents a person from functioning on a daily basis.

Obsessions are persistent, irrational, and inappropriate thoughts, ideas, or impulses. Compulsions are repetitive rituals that are performed in response, often in hopes of relieving obsessions. In normal circumstances, people are able to suppress or ignore these thoughts and/or rituals and continue daily functioning. OCD occurs when an individual experiences symptoms for more than an hour a day in a way that causes severe distress and interferes with his/her daily functioning. The person recognizes that the obsessions and compulsions are excessive or unreasonable, but is unable to stop them or control the anxiety they generate.

The most common obsessions are fear of contamination, arranging items in a symmetrical pattern, and aggressive thoughts. The most common compulsions are checking, cleaning, and repeating actions.

Scientific studies point to chemical imbalances in the brain as the cause of OCD. Genetics play a role as well. If a parent or sibling has OCD, there’s a 25 percent chance that another immediate family member may have it as well.

While symptoms may become less severe from time to time, OCD is a chronic disease which typically begins during childhood. The illness tends to get worse as a person ages. Often, individuals attempt to hide the disease rather than seek treatment. Left untreated, however, symptoms may become too severe to control and rituals too deeply ingrained to change.

Fortunately, effective treatments are available. At Christian Health Care Counseling Center, a personal care plan is developed after discussing options with the client and his/her family, if appropriate. The most common treatment modalities are medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches a person how to think, behave, and react differently to obsessions and compulsions.

For more information about OCD and treatment options at Christian Health Care Center, call (201) 848-4463, email khockstein@chccnj.org, or visit our Mental Health and Publications sections.

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