Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is characterised by having repetitive, persistent and intrusive obsessions and/or compulsions. They can cause the individual extreme anxiety and distress, and they feel compelled to engage in compulsive behaviour that may be time-consuming and may have significant negative effects on their life and people around them.
The exact cause of OCD has not fully been understood, however, it is believed to be a product of both nature and nurture.
From a nurture perspective, it can be a response to trauma. From a neuropsychological perspective, OCD is the result of the brain’s cortexes not communicating effectively. This means that information about error detection, rewards, movements and memories are not processed properly – which leads to the root of the issue – doubt. This is best described as a ‘short circuit’ in the brain’s communications. For instance, after having locked a door, the brain ‘short circuits’ and creates doubt, ‘Did I actually lock the door?’.
This doubt creates high anxiety, confusing the individual’s perceived intensity of the thought, and leading to engaging in compulsions to reduce the anxiety in the short-term, in this example, ‘Maybe I should check if I locked the door again, just to be absolutely sure’.
The struggle for individuals with OCD tends to be the inability of reasoning with the irrational and obsessive thoughts that they have. The intensity of the obsessive thought and perceived intensity of ‘what may happen’ if no action is taken on that thought, can lead the individual to engage in compulsions that are unwanted and highly intrusive to their life.
The most effective form of treatment for OCD is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, including Exposure and Response Prevention. With guidance from a professional, the individual is encouraged to confront obsessive thoughts without engaging in compulsions, starting with the least intrusive thoughts till the most intrusive thought. This helps to rewire the neural pathways and decrease the perceived intensity of obsessive thoughts. Treatments can also include acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness, and medication.