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2.2 million adults live with OCD, and while the median age of onset is 19 years old, 25% develop the illness by age 14.
OCD causes unreasonable thoughts, fears, or worries. A person with OCD tries to manage these thoughts through rituals. Frequent disturbing thoughts or images are called obsessions. They are irrational and can cause severe anxiety. Reasoning doesn’t help control the thoughts. Rituals or compulsions are actions that help stop or ease the obsessive thoughts. The condition occurs in children, adolescents, and adults, and with proper treatment, symptoms can be managed.
A person’s level of OCD can be anywhere from mild to severe, but if severe and left untreated, it can destroy a person’s capacity to function at work, at school, or even to lead a comfortable existence in the home.
While neuroscientists are investigating the areas of the brain thought to be responsible for OCD, clinician-researchers are also conducting studies to constantly improve OCD treatments such as exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
The exposure in ERP refers to exposing yourself to the thoughts, images, objects, and situations that make you anxious and/or start your obsessions. The response prevention part of ERP refers to making a choice not to do a compulsive behavior once the anxiety or obsessions have been “triggered.” All of this is done under the guidance of a therapist at the beginning—though individuals will eventually learn to do their own ERP exercises to help manage symptoms.
ACT promotes a willingness to accept and address, rather than avoid, difficult thoughts and emotions and may reduce barriers to other forms of treatment. Rather than avoiding unwanted thoughts and feelings, individuals learn skills to help them to change their relationship to the experiences into a more positive reaction.
You may find these resources valuable to understand more about obsessive compulsive disorder: