By: Oumaima Mansouri
According to Faces of Abnormal Psychology Interactive website, 2% of adults in the United States have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and about 4% will experience the disorder at some point in their lives. Obsessive compulsive disorder can begin at any time from preschool to adulthood. Symptoms of the disorder begin gradually, often during adolescence or early adulthood. In children, the compulsive actions often appear first and the obsessive thoughts develop later. Children may express obsessive compulsive symptoms, however, they typically have poor insight and seldom perceive that their compulsive behaviors are excessive. In adults, about one third diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder report having symptoms during their childhood. Unfortunately, in most cases it went unrecognized.
Diagnosing an individual with obsessive compulsive disorder can be difficult. Research shows that it takes the average person seventeen years from the onset of obsessive compulsive disorder to begin receiving appropriate treatment. This delay can be accounted for by individuals attempting to hide their symptoms, as well as many healthcare providers being unfamiliar with the clinical disorder. Obsessive compulsive symptoms cause distress, take up a lot of time, and may significantly impact the person’s work, social life, and/or relationships. Many adults with OCD have a good insight into their problem and are able to recognize that their obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions are irrational. However, there are certain individuals that lack insight into their disorder.
In children obsessions and compulsions symptoms can often appear related. For example, a child with an obsessive fear of intruders may check the door locks repeatedly. A child with an obsessive fear of disease may wash their hands excessively. She/he/they may fear that harm will come to their family unless they engage in a particular habit or pattern such as, avoiding using certain numbers or retracing their steps. Parents may not be aware of the full extent of a child’s symptoms because many of them occur in the child's mind and others are hidden. A parent may notice that their child avoids certain things, seems distracted, inattentive, or irritable, repeatedly seeks reassurance, or has difficulties tolerating uncertainty. A trained cognitive behavioral therapist can help the child and the family assess if these symptoms are caused by OCD.
During the assessment process, it is important to obtain the family history of any mental illness, particularly OCD from the client. If they had obsessive thoughts as a child, their current compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts and symptoms, and how the disorder affects their daily functioning. Assessment can help therapists plan interventions, identify risk factors, and most importantly highlight a client’s strengths. Instead of looking at the assessment as a way of gathering information to find or identify issues, one can focus on gathering information to identify resources that can be put in place for the client in order to reinforce solutions.
There are many effective treatment options for individuals that suffer from OCD. Some of the more popular treatments include Psychoeducation, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and medications (antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications). CBT can help the person recognize their obsessive actions and help them challenge and cope with their obsessive thoughts. Stress can cause obsessive compulsive disorder to become more exaggerated or exacerbate symptoms. Practicing mindfulness techniques in addition to the above treatments has also shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and stress levels. Mindfulness can also help an individual with OCD become more aware of their triggers.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a chronic condition. Symptoms can be managed, but they may reappear in the same or a different form several years later. Therapy can aid individuals recognize, respond to new or existing OCD symptoms, and cope with their obsessive thoughts particularly during stressful times.
Faces of Abnormal Psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved from