Breaking the Chains of OCD: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Managing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent, uncontrollable thoughts, ideas, impulses or images (obsessions) that can cause anxiety and repetitive behaviours or mental acts (compulsions) that are performed to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsessions. These compulsions can interfere with daily activities and can be time-consuming, causing significant distress to the person suffering from OCD.

Symptoms of OCD can include excessive washing or cleaning, repeated checking, counting, ordering, or arranging, intense fear of contamination, or unwanted, violent or horrific thoughts. People with OCD may feel driven to perform these rituals to try to prevent harm to themselves or others or to prevent a dreaded event from happening. Even though these compulsions may bring temporary relief, they are not satisfying in the long term and they ultimately interfere with the person’s daily functioning, relationships, and overall well-being.

It is usually treated with a combination of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is considered the most effective treatment for OCD. The therapy aims to help the person identify and change negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours related to their obsessions and learn to tolerate uncertainty and anxiety.

It may surprise people to know that almost a third of my enquiries are from people wanting help with OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD is a clinically recognised disorder which affects around 1-2% of the population. It can have a huge impact on people’s day-to-day lives.

People with OCD experience a range of symptoms and, most commonly, intensely negative, repetitive and intrusive thoughts combined with a chronic feeling of doubt or danger (obsessions). In order to quell the thought or quieten the anxiety, they will often repeat an action again and again (compulsions). People’s experience of OCD is very individual and this can lead to feeling very isolated with the symptoms.

Often people have been coping with OCD for many years before looking for help. This is for a number of reasons, primarily people have huge resilience and develop many ways of managing and in part, it’s due to the embarrassment and stigma of the symptoms.

Many of us experience a compulsion or obsession to varying degrees at some point in our lives. I know I check my front door much more often when I’m stressed than if I’m relaxed, for example. Often it is a way of managing stress, anxiety or periods of life change or high uncertainty. Becoming a new parent, moving house, leaving school, going to university or experiencing a trauma are just some of the triggers.

If only we shared our difficulties a little more, we may begin to see that our struggles and ways of coping are very similar to each other’s and are often our best efforts in a world that rarely runs smoothly. The critical thing to know about OCD is that it is treatable.

Why is Cognitive behavioural therapy the right therapy for OCD?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that is commonly used to treat OCD. The goal of CBT for OCD is to help the person identify and change the negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are associated with their obsessions and compulsions.

CBT for OCD typically involves two main components:

  1. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): This component of CBT involves gradually exposing the person to their feared situations, objects, or thoughts while preventing them from engaging in compulsive behaviours. This helps the person to confront and eventually overcome their fears. For example, if a person is afraid of contamination, the therapist will guide them to touch objects that they consider to be contaminated and eventually, with time, the person will learn that the feared object or situation is not as dangerous as they thought and the anxiety will decrease.
  2. Cognitive Therapy: This CBT component helps the person identify and change negative thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions related to their obsessions. The therapist will work with the person to challenge and reframe these negative thoughts and beliefs, which can help to reduce the intensity of their obsessions and the associated anxiety.

CBT for OCD often involves weekly therapy sessions, which can last between 12 to 20 weeks. The therapy is usually tailored to each person’s unique needs, and the therapist will work with them to create a treatment plan that addresses their specific obsessions and compulsions.

It is important to note that CBT for OCD requires a level of effort and commitment from the person suffering from OCD, it is not a magic cure but with time, effort and consistent therapy sessions, the person can learn to manage their OCD symptoms and improve their quality of life.

  1. CBT for OCD is derived from research so there is clear evidence it works.
  2. You will learn what keeps OCD going and how to reverse it.
  3. You will be provided with lots of information about OCD and anxiety.
  4. You will understand it and therefore feel empowered and back in control.
  5. You will learn how to become your own CBT therapist, so if it pops up again, you will know what to do.


Links worth clicking

OCD – is it time to seek professional help

Lived experience – New dad with intrusive thoughts

What is CBT

Download The 6 steps to resilience – your free guide




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  1. ocd symptoms in kids says

    I appreciate this article, this is indeed great. Simply because the content is very useful and informative especially to the ladies. Thank you for sharing this.

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at