Common Myths about OCD
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder also known as OCD, is easily one of the most misunderstood conditions around. The term OCD is well known and commonly thrown around every day. However, someone who has experienced OCD will tell you most people don’t understand it and it is often misdiagnosed or not treated properly. This article will seek to clarify 5 common myths about OCD.
Myth #1: OCD is a personality trait: “She is super OCD about everything in her home.”
Fact: The DSM-5 defines obsessions and compulsions as:
Obsessions are defined by:
- Recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress.
- The individual attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action (ie, by performing a compulsion).
Compulsions are defined by:
- Repetitive behaviors (eg, hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (eg, praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.
- The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety or distress, or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent, or are clearly excessive.
Myth #2: Obsessions are preoccupations with a certain activity or hobby: “He is obsessed with gaming.”
Fact: Again, reading over the definition in the DSM-5 above, obsessions are unwanted thoughts, ideas, or fears. We often mistake the word with thinking that obsessions are enjoyable activities that we have a hard time placing down. Yes, obsessions do involve difficulty in breaking a particular thought pattern, but true obsessions are not enjoyable thoughts, hence the rituals or compulsions are used to try to suppress the obsession.
Myth #3: There is something disordered about having obsessions: “There must be something wrong with me if I have these thoughts.”
Fact: Everyone has intrusive or unwanted thoughts. We have a very creative mind, and it has the ability to think about our greatest dreams to our darkest thoughts. If you have ever watched the movie “Inside Out” the movie shows that every day we have a bunch of random thoughts pop into our brain. Intrusive thoughts are no different, they are unwanted thoughts. Most people will tell you throughout the day or in their dreams they may have experienced a disturbing thought. Automatic thoughts are often unconscious, we do not intentionally choose our initial thought. What leads to OCD is typically how we respond to the unwanted thoughts. Unfortunately, the more we pay attention to an unwanted thought or try to suppress the thought, the more likely it is to come back; just like a bully.
Myth #4: Rituals or compulsions consist of just behaviors that can observed: “If she would just stop washing, then she would be free of OCD.”
Fact: Yes, reducing and eliminating rituals/compulsions are key of breaking the OCD cycle, but there can be mental rituals associated with obsessions they are often missed. Mental rituals can consist of counting, analyzing, repeating, or reviewing that can happen all within the mind. A couple of examples could be analyzing “did I commit a sin or not” or “reviewing did I contaminate something?” Addressing mental rituals is a key part in healing from OCD.
Myth #5: There is no treatment for OCD: “OCD is chronic and just going to stick around permanently.”
Fact: Research has shown that Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with Exposure & Response Interventions are a gold standard treatment for OCD. I have personally witnessed many people find relief from OCD by engaging in a structured CBT treatment. Yes, there is some truth that you cannot “cure” OCD because you can’t just make thoughts disappear. But you can change how you respond to the obsessions based on your thoughts and actions that follow the obsessions. Most of the problem of OCD is the rituals, compulsions, or avoidance of triggers to the obsessions. It is possible to not let the obsessions run your day just as you would not give any power to a bully. Please feel welcome to contact me if you or a family member would like more information on OCD therapy.