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OCD symptoms and definitions

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychological disorder that causes significant distress and severe anxiety. Symptoms include obsessions and/or compulsions that are time consuming and impairing, meaning they get in the way of a person’s day-to-day life and lead to problems in friendships, school/jobs, and within the family.

When is an obsession more than just “a worry”?

Obsessions are thoughts, images or impulses that occur over and over again. OCD obsessions are different from everyday worries because they feel tremendously difficult to control, happen very frequently and repeatedly, and are extremely upsetting. Obsessions can be about almost anything, but some common categories include extreme worries about contamination (germs and illness), danger or harm, magical thinking/superstitious fears, and about the need for things to be “just right.”

For example: In the film, Vanessa’s obsessions were related to fears about contamination. Holden’s obsessions were in the domain of magical thinking.

What is a compulsion?

Compulsions are behaviors that someone with OCD feels they must do in order to feel less worried and/or prevent something bad from happening. Compulsions can be very different from person to person, but there are some compulsions that are more common.

These include checking and repeating behaviors (e.g., turning the doorknob to see if the door is locked 5 times), ordering or arranging objects, repeating rituals (e.g., turn on/off light switch), and mental behaviors (e.g., saying a certain phrase in your mind over and over, or a certain amount of times). Compulsions are sometimes referred to as rituals.

Compulsions in the film included Ariel’s checking behaviors and praying. Sharif and Sarah both engaged in checking and repeating behaviors as their primary compulsions.

When do OCD symptoms usually start?

OCD symptoms can start nearly anytime during a person’s life, but most people with the disorder develop their obsessions/compulsions between the ages of 8 and12 years old, or from the late teens to early 20s.

How is OCD diagnosed?

The best way find out if you have OCD is for a trained and licensed clinician to make a diagnosis is through an interview with the individual suffering from OCD, or (in the case of a child) the child with OCD and their parents. A standardized assessment of OCD symptoms called the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) or Children’s Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (CY-BOCS) should also be administered in an interview format.

What does OCD treatment look like? Does it ever go away?

Fortunately, OCD can be treated! Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), has been found to be the best type of therapy for the disorder and is considered the “gold standard” of treatment. Within CBT, Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) is the main technique used.

During ERP, the person with OCD is exposed to what causes their severe anxiety (related to their obsessive thoughts). At the same time, they are prevented from avoiding the trigger and engaging in their compulsions. While this is difficult and increases anxiety at first, it eventually leads to habituation, or a decrease in anxiety and OCD symptoms.

In UNSTUCK, Holden’s obsessions were related to strength and superheroes. For exposures, Holden looked at pictures of superheroes, watched workout videos, and eventually hugged a real bodybuilder. Before treatment, this would have seemed impossible but by repeatedly doing these exposures, his anxiety eventually lessened and his OCD got better.

What can family members and friends of someone with OCD do to help?

One way that family members and friends can help a person with OCD is by learning about it. The more you know, the more you can assist in getting those with OCD the help they need.

While OCD is most impairing and distressing to the individual with the condition, it affects the entire family. When a child is in distress, family members also become stressed and want to make the child feel better. This often involves providing reassurance, accommodating OCD compulsions, and allowing the child to avoid stressors. Although intentions are good, accommodating OCD usually makes it worse. Therefore, it is essential that parents and family members are highly involved in OCD treatment in order to learn strategies to support their child and help in making treatment gains. Silbings can get more advice here.

Should people with OCD take medication?

Usually, CBT and ERP are the first line of treatment for OCD. When symptoms are very severe and/or are causing significant issues in the individual’s everyday life and functioning, medications can help. In addition, if a person with OCD has been receiving good therapy treatment but progress is slow, minimal, or hits a plateau, medications may be considered. Specifically, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) have been approved to treat OCD. It is important to remember that combining SSRIs with therapy is much more effective than treating OCD with medication alone. Please consult a psychiastrist or your medical doctor to discuss things like dosage, side-effects and which medication might be right.


Helpful OCD resources

Start with Our Favorites

Attend the digital OCD Conference, OCDeconstruct

Learn with Anxious Toddlers OCD Kid's Course

Find a Teletherapist with NOCD

Read Talking Back to OCD  

Listen to The OCD Stories

Enroll in ERP School

(Kids) Read Blink, Blink, Clop, Clop

Join Parents of Children with OCD Facebook Group


Read When a Family Member has OCD

Request a Not Alone Notes

(Teens) Read Stuff That's Loud

OCD Charities & Foundations

Visit International OCD Foundation


Visit Intrusive Thoughts/Made of Millions

Visit OCD Action (UK)

Help for Skin Picking via Picking Me Foundation

Help for PANS/PANDAS via PANDAS Network

Visit BDD Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation

Visit TOC Mexico

Teletherapy & Self-Help Apps

Adults can schedule a free Therapist consult

Help with ACT Beyond OCD

Download My OCD Fighter (Android only)

Therapy Tools and Peer Advice

Discover the AT Parenting Community

Advice for Anxiety In The Classroom

Peer Support from Chrissie Hodges

Virtual ERP advice from Dr. Allison

Check out ERP in a Box

Listen to My Anxiety Toolkit

Try Battle Back Beads

OCD Support Groups


Join our Getting UNSTUCK Facebook Group


Join OCD Awareness and Resources Facebook Group


(For teens) Join OCD Support Groups for Young Adults


(For young adults) Join OCD Youth Forums

Join Support for Parents of Kids with OCD Facebook Group

OCD Books for Kids & Teens


Read Up And Down Worry Hill


Read What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck


Read Without Doubt!


Read Unraveling Rose

Try Color Your Fears Workbook


Read OCD Workbook for kids


Read ACT Workbook for Teens

Read Practice Being Brave


Read Payton is Afraid of Dirt


Read Kissing Doorknobs

Read This Mouse is a Mouse


Read Weight Of Our Sky (web comic)


Read OCD Daniel


Read Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda


Read Goldfish Boy


Read The Imp Of The Mind

Read The Obsessive Outsider

OCD Books for Parents and Adults


Read Because We Are Bad


Read Freeing your Child from OCD


Read Worried No More

Read Healing From OCD

Read Being Me With OCD


Read The I'Mpossible Project


Read Stopping the Noise in Your Head


Read OCD To Me


Read Pure


Read The Man Who Couldn't Stop


Read Is Fred in the Refrigerator


Awesome OCD Websites


Visit The Secret Illness

Add an anonymous intrusive thought


Visit OCD Online


Visit Anxiety in Teens


Visit Wisdo


Watch Mental Health Vlogs


Download How to Help Your Child with OCD


Visit Riley's Wish


Visit JCK Foundation

Read The Resilience

Download popular OCD terms and definitions




Advice about OCD from the cast

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