Have you ever gone back to check a
door you thought you locked, driven home again having wondered if you left an
appliance on, found yourself counting, or saying a phrase over and over to
yourself in case something bad happens, or worrying about the person that’s
sneezing in the office and made sure the surfaces they’ve touched are extra
clean tried to avoid touching them yourself?
To a certain degree, behaviours
like checking, cleaning and ruminating are normal. If we are not sure about
something, we like to make certain, or think about it in order to work it out,
or have small rituals we perform as ‘luck’ to prevent harm. However, for the
person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, these behaviours and thoughts have
the potential to dominate the person’s life affecting not only their quality of
life, but also that of their family.
What is OCD?
OCD is characterised by obsessions
(thoughts) and/or compulsions (behaviours) that are often distressing and
interfere with normal routines, relationships and every-day living. Recent TV programmes like Obsessed have increased
awareness of this condition that affects about 2.5 per cent of the population.
Celebrities like footballer David Beckham in a 2006 British TV interview spoke
out about his own experience with OCD in an attempt to raise awareness about
No one really understands where it
comes from, but developmental psychologists note that as children, we often go
through a stage of counting or checking, but as we get older we learn to trust
our own judgment. Genetics, low levels of a neurotransmitter called Serotonin
and environmental factors are all thought to contribute to the development of
The majority of people with OCD
perform a single or series of rituals or behaviours in response to a thought
they find distressing. The thought could just ‘appear’ as thoughts do, or be in
response to a triggering situation. An
example would be driving along one morning to work and feeling a bump in the
road. Most people’s response would be, “that’s a pot-hole/bump in the road”,
but to the person with OCD this might trigger a thought about “what if I’ve run
someone over”. This thought leads to worry and the driver may carry on and then
check for police or media reports about someone run over, or they may go back
and check the road, check the car for evidence, worry about it, and then drive
extra slow, feeling concerned about each and every bump in the road, get a
friend to check that section of road with them, or refuse to drive altogether.
As we all know, excessive worry and
rumination (going over and over things in one’s mind) makes us feel
uncomfortable and can prevent us from sleeping, make us either not want to eat, or overeat, cause us not
engage socially, all of which in turn affect our mood level. Therefore, as well
as anxiety, OCD is associated with depression.
The treatment of choice for OCD is
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sometimes combined with antidepressants. Viewers
of Obsessed will have seen therapists work with individuals in their homes, and
gradually have them face the fear, experience the anxiety peaking and then
decreasing and not performing the self-soothing ritual. This teaches the person
that nothing awful happens if this process is not followed through and the
anxiety is manageable. Here at EAP we have an experienced and accredited
cognitive therapist who can help the person break free from the mental chains
of OCD. If you or a family member suffer from OCD, or recognise some of the
tendencies, here are a few tips to try out for yourself:
You are not your thoughts or your
If you want to check something, try
and cut down the number of times, or as an experiment, see what happens if you
Try not to avoid any situations; be
brave and face them but start with the easy ones first!
Try not to ask for reassurance as
this only reinforces the problem; learn to rely on your own judgment.
If you feel anxious, rate it, stay
in the situation and re-rate in intervals of five minutes; you may be surprised
that the anxiety reduces as does the urge to perform the ritual.
Research, there are some excellent
self-help books available and online forums for support.
Consider medication, and talk with
Consider Cognitive Behaviour
To schedule a confidential
appointment with The Employee Assistance Programme contact us on 949-9559, or
Emma Roberts is a counsellor with the EAP.