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You may have heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) from TV, film or friends. Although awareness of OCD has increased in recent years, unfortunately there are still many myths surrounding the condition. We hope to debunk some of the more common myths in this article.

• Myth 1 – OCD is a personality quirk

These days many people describe themselves as “a bit OCD” because they like to organise their DVD’s in alphabetical order or keep a clean and tidy house. In reality, most of these people do not have OCD and the phrase trivialises a debilitating condition.

OCD affects around 1 in 50 people at some point during their life (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15939837). There are two main symptoms of OCD – obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts. Most people experiences thoughts of this kind from time to time. For example, have you ever been driving and suddenly had the thought that you could turn your car into oncoming traffic? For people with OCD though, these thoughts are very frequent, distressing and difficult to get rid of.

Compulsions are mental or behavioural acts that people carry out to help reduce the anxiety caused by an obsession. An example of this would be an individual washing their hands many times each day due to obsessional thoughts about being contaminated.

It’s true that most of us experience much milder variants of symptoms of OCD (http://jonabram.web.unc.edu/files/2015/01/IITIS-Part-1-2014.pdf). But in order to be diagnosed with OCD, these symptoms must be frequent, cause a lot of distress and prevent you from living an ordinary life.

• Myth 2 – OCD is all about hand washing and being neat and tidy

When most people think of OCD, they think about excessive handwashing or being particularly neat and tidy. It’s true that some people with OCD have thoughts and compulsions about contamination or symmetry. But OCD is a condition that can manifest in many different ways.

Obsessional thoughts may be related to sex, aggression, harm, religion, superstition or relationships.

Although cleaning and hand-washing are examples of more obvious, visible compulsions, other compulsions are less obvious. Some people may repeat the phrase “I am not a bad person” in their head after having a thought about harming a child. Others may repeatedly think about a previous social encounter, checking to make sure that they didn’t offend anybody.

• Myth 3 – People with OCD might act on their obsessional thoughts

Some people, including some medical professionals, believe that people might act out their obsessional thoughts. For example, they may think that a person who has obsessional sexual thoughts relating to children poses a risk to children. This is an inaccurate and unhelpful view. There are no known cases of anybody with OCD ever acting out an obsessional thought.

Obsessional thoughts often represent a person’s biggest fears (e.g. of being a paeodophile). A person with OCD is no more likely to act out an obsessional thought than a person with a height phobia is of jumping off a high building (http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/aptrcpsych/15/5/332.full.pdf).

• Myth 4 – OCD isn’t treatable

Many people with OCD do not seek help because they are ashamed of their obsessional thoughts or because they don’t believe that their condition can improve. It’s true that several decades ago, treatment options for OCD were poor. Today, though, several different treatments are available that many people find helpful. These can be discussed with your GP or therapist.

Some find that medication can reduce some of the symptoms of OCD. But many people do not like the negative side-effects (http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/SSRIs-(selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors)/Pages/Side-effects.aspx)

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is very effective for helping people with OCD (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22999486). CBT (http://cognitivepractice.com/is-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-right-for-me/) is a form of talking therapy that aims to improve how you feel by changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. CBT can be carried out face-to-face or online (http://cognitivepractice.com/online-therapy-does-it-work/). Some find that CBT works best when taking medication at the same time.

If you’d like to find out more about OCD, then click here (http://www.ocduk.org/).

If you’d like to find out more about CBT then feel free to contact us (http://cognitivepractice.com/contact/)

Connor Heapy
Writer for Cognitive Practice
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