Washing and Checking OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects around 2% of the population and is characterized by obsessions (thoughts) and compulsions (behaviors.) The obsessive thought causes anxiety which leads the sufferer to do a compulsive behavior in an attempt to get rid of their anxiety. The relief often comes, but only for a short period of time causing the sufferer to do the compulsion more and more often. This is called the Obsessive-Compulsive (O-C) cycle and is a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. OCD is nicknamed the "doubting disease" and "pathological doubt." Uncertainty is very difficult to tolerate for people with OCD, so they do the behaviors to feel more certain/safe and less anxious. Washing and checking OCD, a sub-set of the disorder, is commonly known and portrayed in television and films. 

Those with hand-washing compulsions have contamination OCD. Most of the sufferers are trying to avoid getting sick/being exposed to a toxic substance while some are simply trying to rid themselves of the disgust feeling. They wash to "feel" clean, however, the more they wash, the more they need to wash. Sufferers often use extreme amounts of water, soap and paper towels and avoid touching "dirty" things. This can lead to very dry, red and sore hands and, for some, a feeling of shame.

People who compulsively check doors and windows often fear a break-in or being responsible for a tragedy. Sufferers believe it is better "to be safe than sorry" but, in the long run, repeated checking leads to more doubt and anxiety. Since OCD is a progressive disorder, the sufferer will need to check more often and for longer to feel "just right." Checking can cause them to be chronically late as they get "stuck" making sure things are locked/unplugged. It is not uncommon for people with this type of OCD to be half way to work and decide to return home to check again. The level of doubt and distress is so intolerable, checking becomes the sufferer's priority.

Fortunately there is help! Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) are the evidence-based treatments for OCD. I also incorporate Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness training to guide my clients through breaking the O-C cycle. While there is no 100% cure as of yet, many of my clients experience 85% symptom reduction. Contact me for a free 15 minute consultation.