Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterised by upsetting recurrent thoughts that keep coming into your head which results in compulsive or obsessive behaviours to try and reduce the anxiety felt. For example, someone may have an unrealistic feeling of being dirty when they are not. This may then result in them washing repeatedly to the point where they are washing so much that they damage their skin.

Some people may have to go through complete rituals that they believe will help to reduce anxiety caused by an obsessive thought.

What causes OCD?

We do not know the absolute cause of OCD.  It can affect anyone but having a parent may increase someone’s risk by ten times. It can start as young as 6 or 7 years of age, or at any time right through someone’s life. It can affect people of all intelligence levels and all ethnicities.  

An episode of OCD can be triggered by stress. Something that occurs in someone’s life that may place extra stress or anxiety which then manifests into OCD.


OCD symptoms can range from mild to severe. For example, some people with OCD may spend an hour or so a day engaged in obsessive compulsive thinking and behaviour. For others, the condition can completely take over their life.

OCD affects people differently but most people who experience OCD will fall into a similar pattern with four main steps:

  • obsession - where the mind is overwhelmed by a constant obsessive fear or concern, such as the fear of the house will be burgled
  • anxiety - this obsession provokes a feeling of intense anxiety and distress
  • compulsion - adopting a pattern of compulsive behaviour to reduce anxiety and distress, such as checking all windows and doors are locked at least three times before leaving the house
  • temporary relief - the compulsive behaviour brings temporary relief from anxiety, but the obsession and anxiety soon return, causing the pattern or cycle to begin again


It is a very treatable problem and there are very good treatments that can help significantly. A person needs to go to their GP who may be able to provide assessment or a referral to therapist who can provide a thorough assessment.

One of the most effective treatments for most people is a talking treatment called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT for OCD involves learning how to resist carrying out rituals a little bit at a time, while understanding the anxiety someone experiences isn’t harmful or dreadful. And to realise you don’t have to carry out routines.

There is also effective medication that works. However, once a person stops taking medication symptoms generally return so it is usually advised that people go through a course of CBT as well to learn how to combat their symptoms if they return.

For people who do not respond to treatment quickly (usually four to six weeks) they may require a longer course of treatment or may need to be reassessed, are their other conditions like depression or other factors within their lives.

If they require admission to hospital they would probably receive more intense CBT and medication, Serotonin enhancing medication (SSRIs). Being on a ward means they can be monitored by doctors and nurses more closely. This is usually for people whose OCD has completely taken over aspects of their daily lives.

At SLaM we have an Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit (ADRU) where people can stay in a residential unit throughout their treatment, making our service unique in the UK.

This is specifically designed for people with OCD, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and other anxiety disorders.

Search for OCD services using our clinical service finder.

Read Debbie's story about living with OCD.

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This filmis made in partnership with OCD Action

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