Counseling & Wellness Services (CWS)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or "OCD" is a form of mental illness prevalent in two percent of the general population. Men and women are equally likely to develop OCD. It typically begins in early adolescence or early adulthood, occurring earlier in males than females (13-15, and 20-24 years respectively). Though its symptoms may wax and wane in severity, it is mostly chronic and often debilitating. It disrupts marital and other interpersonal relationships. For example, marital discord is reported by approximately 50% of married individuals seeking treatment for OCD. It can also interfere with an individual's performance at school and/or work.

The Nature of OCD

Individuals with OCD may have either obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions are persistent, recurrent and intrusive thoughts, impulses or images that cause
marked distress or anxiety. People with obsession work to suppress and
neutralize these thoughts but are often unsuccessful.

Compulsions, on the other hand, are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that an individual feels driven to perform in an attempt to cope with an obsession or some set of rigidly adhered to internalized rules. Compulsive behaviors or mental acts are a means of avoiding or preventing distress.

People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder may be classified on the basis of their compulsion:

  • Checkers
  • Washers
  • Counters
  • Pray-ers
  • Repeaters
  • Order-ers

Let’s demonstrate the distinction between obsessions and compulsions by an example. Some individuals with OCD are constantly concerned about cleanliness and hygiene. That concern compels these people to spend a significant amount of time each day washing their hands or showering especially after touching toilet seats, doorknobs, escalators or stair rails, money, or any item they think may be dirty or contaminated. They explain that they are concerned about becoming infected or sick from touching these objects. They get very anxious when they try to avoid washing. So, they feel compelled to wash even more to make up for the omission. In this illustration, concern about hygiene is an obsession, while the pressure to wash is a compulsion. Obsessions occur in our thinking, whereas compulsions may be mental acts or behaviors. An obsession may initiate a compulsion, but both do not have to exist for the person to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.



  • Prather, R. C., (2000). Obsessive-compulsive Disorder in M. Hersen & A. S. Bellack (Eds). Psychopathology in Adulthood. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon
  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.