Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is when you become trapped in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. It usually affects young adults but can start as early as puberty. It can also occur after a major life event, such as pregnancy or bereavement.

Obsessions are usually unwanted, unpleasant thoughts or images that leave you feeling distressed. Compulsions are the behaviours you use to get rid of these obsessions and distress.

Many people have occasional intrusive thoughts, such as worrying if you’ve left the front door unlocked. But for some people these obsessions and compulsions can dominate their lives and become mental health problems. It particularly affects people who are perfectionists, those who are overly anxious and those with a strong sense of responsibility.

Tracie Holroyd, a counsellor based in Tamworth, says: “OCD is a reaction to thought patterns and becomes a coping mechanism.

“For some people it can be a very debilitating condition that can have a huge impact on their daily lives because of the processes they go through with their obsessions and compulsions.”

Counselling can help you put things in perspective and support you in overcoming OCD.

What are OCD symptoms?

The symptoms of OCD are unpleasant thoughts and repetitive behaviours.

These thoughts can include fears of causing someone harm or that you’re going to harm someone, intrusive thoughts or images that can sometimes be about violence, sex, relationships or religion.
People with OCD may also be afraid of contamination, such as with dirt or germs. Or their fears and worries may be that something bad will happen if things are not ordered or symmetrical.

The compulsions are the actions taken to try to relieve these thoughts. They can include washing your hands a lot, turning lights on and off repeatedly, arranging items in a certain way, checking that doors and windows are locked lots of times, and repeating words or names out loud.

Sometimes people have to do the action a certain number of times to make themselves feel better. This can be very time-consuming and have a big impact on their life, work and families.

Tracie adds: “Many people understand the impact OCD has on their lives all too well, but they don’t understand why they do these things that have such an impact.”

How counselling can help with OCD

Therapy can help you understand your thought processes and learn how to cope with OCD. It often starts to free you from your compulsions by helping you become less sensitive to them. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is most often offered for OCD. This type of therapy looks at your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and helps to change some of these to manage your problems.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a type of treatment that was specifically designed for OCD. You’re exposed to whatever makes you anxious, while being supported by your therapist. You then learn other ways of coping with the anxiety so you don’t repeat the compulsion. ERP can be challenging and guidelines say it should only be offered alongside CBT.

You can ask your therapist if they have any training in these specific therapies.

“OCD is a thought-provoked reaction,” says Tracie. “Therapy helps by breaking down these thoughts, looking for evidence of them and then rationalising them.

“Together with their therapist, a client can peel away their obsessions and compulsions, so these do not control them. Instead they are able to take control of their routines themselves.”

Says Tracie: “People behave compulsively because they feel discomfort. Therapy is about helping you to understand and work with this discomfort to reduce the physical impact and explore the underlying thought process.”

You can find out more about OCD, effective treatments and how to get help on the NHS website.

If you have any comments or would like to share your story, please email us at communications@bacp.co.uk