BABCP | British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies > What is CBT? > CBT for Specific Problems > OCD

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, may have obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviour. Obsessions are ideas, thoughts or images that are usually perceived as irrational, and intrude in healthy day-to-day functioning. They continue even if an individual may try to ignore or avoid them.

Compulsions, also called rituals, are behaviours or thought patterns which are repeatedly performed to rid an individual of disturbing obsessions. OCD refers to the combination of obsessions coupled with unpleasant emotions that drive rituals which usually bring only temporary relief. It is not long before the obsessive thoughts return and the cycle begins again.

Symptoms of OCD can include:

  • excessive hand washing
  • constant checking
  • mentally repeating phrases
  • fear about home security
  • fear of contamination by germs or chemicals
  • fear of causing accidents or harming others

There is no single cause of OCD. It can affect people from all different walks of life. OCD can and holds the power to take over someone’s life. This leads to a negative impact on family relationships, work, and previously enjoyed activities. OCD sufferers may experience high levels of discomfort, low mood and depression, in addition to anxiety and other unpleasant emotions.

How CBT is used to treat OCD

A CBT therapist will discuss your specific difficulties and set goals to be achieved. CBT is not a quick fix. It involves hard work during and particularly in between sessions. The therapist will help in deciding what difficulties should be addressed in order to help improve symptoms and struggles. The therapist will be able to advise on how to continue using CBT techniques in your daily life after treatment ends.

Some of the aims of CBT in treating OCD are:

  • Understanding what your obsessional thoughts mean and what is necessary to overcome them
  • Gradually confronting situations which may have been previously avoided
  • Gradually stopping the rituals which may bring about temporary relief
  • Learning relaxation and confidence-building techniques to reduce the physical symptoms of OCD
  • Using CBT to treat the related symptoms of anxiety and depression

Read our stories

See how CBT has helped others deal with OCD.

Read Jo's story

Listen to our podcasts

Let's Talk About CBT is a podcast about CBT: what it is, what it's not and how it can be useful. Dr Lucy Maddox interviews experts in the field including people who have experienced CBT for themselves. Each episode includes a mix of interviews, myth-busting and explains CBT jargon.

You can download our podcast - CBT for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Other resources

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder


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