When the disease is known it is half cured.

Erasmus Colloquies

Understanding OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition where, as the name implies, people experience obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions in OCD are recurrent and unwanted thoughts that cause people to feel very anxious, distressed or disgusted. These unwanted thoughts may, for example, relate to germs and disease, religion, sex, violence or bad things happening.

Compulsions in OCD are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that the person does to briefly bring relief from unwanted thoughts but become very time-consuming and cause the person distress or difficulties in living their day-to-day life. Some examples of compulsions may include excessive handwashing, checking, counting and praying.

Approximately 1% of Australians will experience OCD at some point in their lives, which can occur at any age. Most cases of OCD start in childhood.

It is common for people with OCD to hide their symptoms, and sometimes people may even feel embarrassed to share what they are experiencing with others. However, it is important to know that OCD is a treatable illness. If you are worried that you or a loved one may have the condition, you should seek help so that a correct diagnosis can be made and effective treatment can be started.


What causes OCD?

Although OCD does tend to run in families, the exact cause of the condition remains unknown. Further research is needed to learn more about what contributes to developing OCD.

What’s it like to have OCD?

Someone with OCD might experience the following:

  • Recurrent, unwanted thoughts or mental images.
  • Difficulty stopping the thoughts even though you are aware they are irrational.
  • Repetitive behaviours, such as excessive handwashing, cleaning items, putting things in a specific arrangement, counting, tapping, repeating words, praying, checking locks or appliances repeatedly.
  • Constantly seeking reassurance from others.

Diagnosis of OCD

A diagnosis of OCD is made by a doctor following an assessment of your symptoms and behaviours. Your GP can refer you to see a psychiatrist and psychologist when it is needed.

Treatment and management of OCD

Conventional treatments for OCD

OCD can be effectively treated by conventional treatments, which include psychological intervention (talking therapy) and medication when needed.

Psychological treatment

The most effective psychological treatment for OCD is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. This treatment can be provided by a psychiatrist or psychologist. ERP is a type of therapy that involves creating a list of what causes you anxiety, from the least to the most anxiety-provoking. Then, with the guidance of your therapist, you would gradually expose yourself to the items on the list, starting with the easiest activity first. You will be guided to experience the anxiety without performing the compulsion until your anxiety levels subside. After repeating this activity enough times until you are used to it, you can then move on to the next item on the list.


Sometimes medication is used to treat OCD, the most common being serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs reduce obsessive thoughts and compulsions, which can help you during ERP therapy.

Complementary treatments for OCD

A personalised integrative treatment plan would include conventional treatments whilst also considering the addition of nutritional supplements and nutraceuticals, mindfulness, meditation, and optimisation of healthy lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and sleep.

Recovery from OCD

It is possible to recover from OCD; however, OCD symptoms can return. If this happens, it is good to know in advance how to deal with it. You can put together a plan to deal with this with your psychologist or psychiatrist.