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A Little About OCD

If you are reading this, perhaps obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be affecting someone close to you. Alternatively, maybe you feel anxiety over certain thoughts you have, and the thoughts and the distressing feelings they evoke will not go away. You are not alone.

OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder that may present in a variety of forms and combinations, including the classic presentation of obsessions consisting of unwanted, intrusive, or personally unacceptable thoughts combined with a nearly-persistent burden of impulses to perform repetitive rituals to ‘correct’ the discomfort of the obsession as a means of coping with it, but the effect is only temporary. Alternatively, obsessive distressing thoughts may be present on their own, without the impulse to alleviate and suppress them through a ritualizing behaviour. Regardless of the symptoms, the effects may be equally debilitating. OCD may take various forms, locking sufferers into an endless spiral of anxiety and despair fuelled by self-doubt, resulting from a crushing need for assurance.

Science has no definitive answers on what causes these disorders, and why some individuals are affected, while others are not. However, research has indicated that indeed OCD may be inherited, as it does run in families and that genes likely play a role in the development of the disorder. In addition, issues with brain chemistry, specifically chemical messengers within the brain called neurotransmitters can add to the likelihood of an onset of OCD, thus there is a biological component at work. It is important to note that biological and genetic predispositions are only partly responsible, as there appears to be an environmental component too. While genetics may certainly play a role in who will develop OCD and related conditions, genes and neurochemical causes are only partly responsible for causing the disorder. Therefore, it is generally believed that OCD onset is most likely the result of a combination of biological and genetic susceptibility and environmental influences.

OCD can start at any time beginning as early as preschool and continuing to adulthood. Specifically, research has shown that the age at onset tends to be earlier in males than in females: between ages 6 and 15 years for males and between ages 20 and 29 years for females, with an average age of onset and diagnosis being 19 years old. Few individuals experience their first onset of OCD after 40 years of age. Approximately 1-2% of the Canadian population will have an episode of OCD in their lifetime, and slightly more women experience OCD compared to men (Canadian Psychological Association, 2014).

While some unwanted thoughts may be a normal part of human experience, where they become troublesome is at the point when those thoughts interfere with daily life, or when they indicate to the person that they are foreshadowing some catastrophe as defined by the individual, and that the person is entirely responsible for their prevention, usually by engaging in some ritualistic safety behaviour (Westbrook, Kennerly & Kirk, 2011). There is no laboratory or brain-imaging test to used diagnose OCD. A mental health professional makes the diagnosis based on the observation and assessment of a person’s symptoms. The good news is there are numerous treatment options for those living with OCD that have proven to be successful. From a psychological standpoint, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a relied upon, first-line treatment for those living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychotherapy for OCD involves talking to a psychologist or counsellor about your obsessions, anxieties, and compulsions, and focuses on the catastrophic thoughts you have, and teaches you healthy and positive ways to deal with, and respond to, obsessive thoughts. CBT is not the only method of therapy available to those living with OCD, as there are a variety of therapies available which may be discussed with your psychologist or counsellor.

If you live with OCD, psychotherapy may help you to realize that you are by no means alone in your swell of obsessions, and that there is hope for the future, and for living an enjoyable, productive life with reduced anxiety and that indeed may be largely free of symptoms.

Peter Gregg, BA, MACP is a Registered Provisional Psychologist with Power Psychology & Associates. Peter has a special interest, and experience in treating OCD. You can book him online at, via email to or by calling us at 780-467-0700.

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