Dr. Ducharme’s Blog June 3, 2019 Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

June 3, 2019

I frequently like to use this blog post to help people understand the various forms of mental illness. Knowledge allows us to understand, find treatment and extend kindness to those affected. Today, I want to talk about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

What is it

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) or actions (compulsions) that he or she has the urge to repeat over and over.

Individuals may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions or both. In order to be diagnosed with this disorder, the obsessions and/or compulsions must take up at least one hour of the day. Obsessions re not pleasant or experienced as voluntary.

When does it usually start


OCD affects children and adults all over the world. Most people are diagnosed around age 19, typically with an earlier age onset in boys than girls.
We do not know the causes of OCD. However, it appears there is a genetic component. Twin and family studies have shown that individuals with first degree relatives who have OCD are at higher risk for developing OCD. A history of trauma and/or abuse tends to put individuals at a higher risk for developing OCD. There is currently research suggesting a possible connection with brain structure and functioning. However, the specifics are not yet clear. Some children may develop the sudden onset of OCD symptoms. This seems to be related to different environmental factors, including various infectious agents and a post-infection autoimmune syndrome. It is quite common for individuals with OCD to have other psychopathology, particularly anxiety, eating disorders, depression or bi-polar disorder and Tourettes disorder.

What are typical behaviors or thoughts  (examples but not limited to)



Fear of germs or contamination

Unwanted or forbidden thoughts involving sex, religion and harm

Aggressive thoughts towards self or others


Repetitive Behaviors such as hand washing, cleaning,  praying

Compulsive counting

Repeatedly checking things or doing things until it feels “right” to stop


What is the treatment


Treatment of OCD through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often as successful as medication for many individuals.  A particular form of CBT, called Exposure/Response treatment has also shown excellent results. Other treatments include habit-reversal training. In some cases, medication may be needed to get symptoms under control. However, without some form of psychotherapy and CBT training, the thoughts and behaviors are highly likely to return when the medicine is discontinued.

It is important to remember that many people have some obsessive or compulsive symptoms.  Everyone double checks things once in a while. However, if these do not take up more than one hour of the day and are not interfering with daily life, OCD cannot be diagnosed. Some obsessive/compulsive behaviors can be helpful in certain jobs where intense and focused attention to detail is necessary.

If you or a loved one has symptoms of OCD, talk to a psychologist trained  in treating this disorder. Help is definitely available.