The Real Face of OCD—The Practical Side

I am not sure if I watched a movie, read a book or just had my own misinformed idea of what OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was before I began graduate school. Twenty years ago if you would have asked me to describe the behaviors of a person living with OCD I would have said they washed their hands a dozen times a day, checked multiple times before leaving their home to ensure their coffee pot was turned off, spent hours organizing their pantry so all of the labels faced forward or exhibited other repetitive behaviors similar to these. However, after studying OCD, treating clients with it and even having a close, personal friend who lives it, I now have a much deeper and more accurate understanding of what OCD looks like.

While I used to believe that OCD only involved behaviors or “compulsions” (like the handwashing I mentioned) this is not the case. OCD may include the presence of obsessions, compulsions or both. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, obsessions related to OCD are defined as “recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges or images that are experienced…as intrusive and unwanted and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety and distress.” The person experiencing these obsessions (or thoughts) will try to ignore or suppress them by other thoughts or actions/compulsions. Compulsions, are defined as, “repetitive behaviors that the individual feels driven to perform (like handwashing) in response to obsessive thoughts” (The DSM-V). The actions are “aimed to prevent or reduce anxiety or distress or to prevent some dreaded event or situation.”

The “obsessions” part of OCD is the part I never knew about years ago. I knew people with OCD engaged in compulsive behaviors—like handwashing and showering; however, I never realized those with OCD suffered with intrusive thoughts that left them feeling anxious and upset. I also did not realize that sometimes the behaviors I saw were performed to try and reduce these intrusive thoughts. As a therapist treating those with OCD I now have a greater understanding of how consuming these obsessions and compulsions can be—interfering with individuals’ daily lives and relationships, not to mention their overall mood and sense of well-being.

While my clients have taught me so much about OCD, a good friend of mine—we will call her Angie—has taught me the most. She has told me I could share her story as long as I changed her name. I will share Angie’s story in the personal blog on this piece. But for now, I want to stress the fact that OCD is a multi-faceted disorder than can manifest as a variety of obsessions/compulsions. Just as importantly, OCD can be a haunting and lonely disorder to live with as people “on the outside” often have no idea how intrusive and troubling the thoughts a person living with OCD deals with. For example, when I first met Angie I had no idea how much anxiety she dealt with on a daily basis related to her intrusive thoughts.

If you have intrusive thoughts, or are compelled to perform repetitive behaviors in order to reduce feelings of anxiety—you may have OCD. However, many mental health disorder involve intrusive and unwanted thoughts so it is important to meet with a skilled psychotherapist to tease out what exactly you are dealing with. Whether you are experiencing OCD or another mental health issue, learning to manage your thoughts and behaviors is vital to your mental health. An Orlando therapist can help you determine your current mental health needs and then together you can build a treatment plan. With the support of an experienced and knowledgeable Orlando therapist, you can achieve your life goals and experience a more peaceful and balanced life. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with a mental health clinician.


Yolanda Brailey