Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a mental illness in which the person struggles with unwanted thoughts, uncontrollable urges, or both. Obsessive thinking and compulsive actions are more than simply negative thoughts or bad habits like nail-biting. Rather, they are things that the person cannot control. OCD cannot be cured, but it can be treated.
Categories of OCD
As with most mental health issues, each person’s experience will be their own, but most professionals group OCD behaviors into groups based on the symptoms people experience. The most common subtypes are contamination obsessions with washing/cleaning compulsion, harm obsessions with checking compulsions, obsessions without visible compulsions, symmetry obsessions with ordering, arranging, and counting compulsions, and hoarding.
Finally, obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors interfere with the individual’s work and other aspects of life. They are also beyond the person’s control and are not things they enjoy. Those with OCD find that their obsessions and compulsions take up at least an hour of their time each day.
Contamination obsessions with washing/cleaning compulsion
The category of OCD that revolves around cleanliness includes one or more of the following:
- persistent worry about germs or sickness
- thoughts about feeling dirty or unclean (physically or mentally)
- ongoing fears about exposure to blood, toxic substances, viruses, or other sources of contamination
- avoidance of possible sources of contamination
- compulsions to get rid of items they consider dirty (even if they aren’t dirty)
- compulsions to wash or clean contaminated items
- specific cleaning or washing rituals, such as washing their hands or scrubbing a surface a certain number of times
Harm obsessions with checking compulsions
The harm obsessions and checking compulsions subcategory of OCD can include any behaviors or thoughts that the person experiences centered on hurting themselves or others. They may also need to verify that all is well through checking rituals.
An example of this would be fears of the person’s house burning down that require the individual to drive by the home multiple times to check that all is well. This type of OCD may also lead people to believe that they are increasing the chances that bad things will happen by thinking negative thoughts.
Obsessions without visible compulsions
Another subcategory of OCD deals with sexual, religious, or aggressive themes. The person may use certain mental rituals to help deal with the anxiety they may feel connected to obsessive thoughts. For instance, they may regularly imagine they will be attacked and, to handle that unwanted thought, they may recite certain words or count. Another way someone with this type of OCD may try to manage their symptoms is by avoiding anything that can trigger these unwanted obsessions.
Symmetry obsessions with ordering, arranging and counting compulsions
Another category of OCD focuses on behaviors related to symmetry or needing to have things in balance. For instance, someone with symmetry-related OCD may need to scratch both elbows even though only one itches. Other signs of OCD within this category include:
- a need for items or belongings to be aligned in a certain way
- an extreme need for symmetry or organization in items
- a compulsion to arrange belongings or other items until they feel “just right”
- feeling incomplete when things aren’t exact
- counting rituals, such as needing to count to a specific number a certain number of times
- magical thinking, or believing something bad will happen if they don’t arrange or organize things in the right way
- organization rituals or specific ways of aligning objects
Those with OCD expressed through hoarding do not want the objects they are collecting, but they cannot stop collecting them. Another mental health concern, hoarding disorder, does not involve the same distress over the things that accumulate and is considered its own diagnosis.
Additional signs that someone is dealing with hoarding linked to OCD are:
- persistent worry that throwing something away could bring harm
- a need to collect a certain number of items to protect themselves or others
- extreme fear of throwing away an essential item by accident
- a compulsion to buy multiples of the same item, even when they don’t need that many
- difficulty throwing away things because touching them could cause contamination
- feeling incomplete if they can’t find a possession or accidentally lost or threw it away
- a compulsion to check their possessions
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.