What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a serious behavioural disorder that causes severe anxiety, and considerably reduces the capacity of a person to lead a normal life. The person suffers from mental obsession about many things such as contamination, safety, perfection, health conditions, perverse thoughts etc., and feel compelled to get over these obsessions by taking ‘appropriate’ actions. Unfortunately, the obsessions never end, hence the ensuing compulsive behaviours never cease, which seriously impair the person’s progress in life. Often the person becomes a liability not only to oneself, but also to others who are near and dear to him/her.
I happened to meet a retired professor in a waiting hall in Bangalore while his daughter had gone in to give an exam. The professor, who appeared to be depressed, confided to me an extraordinary story about his daughter: She, while in her teens, started becoming fastidious about cleanliness and was afraid of contaminating her body parts – it could be hands or anything else – to such an extent that she would not use a wash basin or a bathroom/toilet anywhere outside her own room. Here too, she would spend hours cleaning her hands, etc., repeating the actions ad nauseam.
The net result was that she found it extremely uncomfortable in the school, in the house of relatives or friends, or anywhere else where she would need to use a wash basin or a washroom. And she was virtually homebound at the end, with very few persons accommodating her abnormal behaviour. The father nearly wept when he said that he is the only friend his daughter has now, and he feared for her after his active days.
Normal types of OCD
Examples of OCD behaviours include repeated washing of hands and other body parts, going back to check the lock several times before leaving home, accumulating unwanted things to an extreme, spending considerable time arranging and rearranging books and other things and being tormented by perverse thoughts.
As for persons tormented by perverse thoughts they may mortify themselves and shun those whom they are afraid of hurting with perverse actions (but they don’t do). Such thoughts and avoidance behaviour often alienate them from their near and dear ones and affect peace and happiness in the family. They themselves have hard time progressing in life or continuing happily in life with such a morbid state of mind.
You can browse through the pages of the International OCD Foundation for further details of most forms of OCD.
Treatment for normal OCD
Consult an experienced psychologist or an experienced psychiatrist who has successfully treated such cases without causing adverse side effects.
The International OCD Foundation, Beyond OCD (Fred Penzel) and some other sources show that Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is very helpful in many cases. It is a variety of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and the essence of ERP is to get the person to focus on the particular thought or image that is most obsessive and then help that person to make a choice not to get into his or her routine compulsive behaviour to suppress that obsession. The patient gains control over the compulsive reaction over a period, and then the obsession, too, starts taking a back seat.
There is yet another way, which some people have tried out on their own and have found extremely useful in getting rid of this annoying OCD. It can be practiced by anyone and does not cost anything. Here are the details:
The patients can be given opportunity to witness some intense human sufferings in the world, such as the sufferings of terminally ill cancer patients, accident victims, orphans and the destitute. The OCD patients may be permitted to get involved in helping one of more persons. When exposed to such situations they would be able to see and empathise with extreme forms of human suffering, far worse than what they are presently undergoing. Such exposure can help divert the patient’s attention from his or her OCD, and lead to recovery.
Such an exposure to extreme human sufferings would also have the indirect benefit of helping the immediate family members of the OCD patient to break away from their mundane life of ‘me, myself and my family, and go up in the scale of life’s values; and make them see the world in a different light.
Sudden onset OCD in children (PANDAS)
While most of the OCD cases take time to manifest severity, there is one type of OCD known as PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus), which appears almost overnight and makes the life of the patient and the parents most miserable. It is known to affect only children before puberty, and is said to be caused by an infection. This form of OCD could be compounded by violent behaviours and the child may even appear to be mentally unsound. The onset of this disease is usually preceded by sore throat or ‘strep throat’. All childhood OCDs are not PANDAS.
Treatment for PANDAS
Immune-based treatment has proved highly effective in the recent days, for treating this serious children’s disease. See Thomas Insel for additional information on pandas.
Other psychosomatic illnesses dealt with in our website are:
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