What are the common types of OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a serious mental health condition characterized by the presence of obsessions, compulsions or both. It is widely misunderstood and mis-represented in social media and general conversation. For example, many individuals will say, “that’s my OCD” and be referring to their perfectionistic tendencies which is actually 1 characteristic of OCPD (Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder).

Obsessions are unwelcomed and distressing ideas, thoughts, images or impulses that repeatedly enter your mind. They can seem to occur against your will, be repulsive, senseless and often do not fit with your personality.

One example of an obsession is the recurrent thought or impulse to harm a child or animal even though you never would and the thought is distressing and anxiety provoking. Obsessions differ from worries or distress about real-life situations such as finances, health or personal relationships.

On the other hand, compulsions are behaviours or acts that individuals feel driven to do even though they may be senseless or excessive. Usually these behaviours are in response to an obsession or according to certain rules and when resisted or delayed cause significant anxiety or distress.

An example of a compulsion would be the need to repeatedly check that appliances and water faucets are turned off before leaving the house or repeated handwashing until one feels clean or decontaminated.

Similar to most mental health conditions, most people can relate to having some intrusive thoughts or minor compulsive behaviours. For example, always putting your left shoe on first, occasional automatic thoughts related to self-harm or harm to others, minor counting etc… However, it is the amount of time (often hours), severy of symptoms and the impact on relationships, work and school that make obsessions and compulsions into a psychiatric disorder.

There are many common ways in which OCD can manifest:

  1. Contamination OCD: Individuals with contamination OCD fear being exposed to germs, dirt, or toxins. They may compulsively wash their hands, avoid touching certain objects, or excessively clean their surroundings to alleviate anxiety about contamination.
  2. Checking OCD: People with checking OCD experience persistent doubts or fears about harm or danger. They may repeatedly check doors, locks, appliances, or other items to ensure they are secure, despite knowing they have already checked them multiple times.
  3. Symmetry and Orderliness OCD: This subtype involves an intense need for symmetry, precision, or order. Individuals may feel distressed if objects are not arranged in a particular way or if tasks are not completed according to rigid rules. They may spend excessive time arranging items or performing rituals to achieve a sense of order and control.
  4. Hoarding OCD: Hoarding OCD is characterized by the persistent difficulty discarding possessions, regardless of their actual value. Individuals may accumulate excessive amounts of items that are worthless or they may primarily struggle with discarding any items due to perceived value or sentimentality associated with that item. Essentially, the value of that item to them is completely out of proportion to what most people would say.
  5. Intrusive Thoughts OCD: Individuals with intrusive thoughts OCD experience distressing and unwanted thoughts or mental images that go against their values or beliefs. These thoughts often center around themes of violence, harm, or taboo subjects, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety. Intrusive thoughts can be very distressing, embarrassing and shameful if people do not know that they are apart of OCD. Many individuals worry what others will think about them if they share the intrusive thoughts they are having. For exmaple, imagine if you were having automatic intrusive and violent sexual thoughts about children, friends or colleagues. How would you explain this to another person?
  6. Pure-O OCD: Purely Obsessional OCD, or Pure-O is relatively rare but can occur. It is more difficult to treat with standard therapies since there is no compulsive behaviour to target. It involves experiencing distressing obsessions without obvious compulsions. Individuals may engage in mental rituals or avoidance behaviors to manage their obsessions internally, leading to significant internal distress and impairment.

Understanding what is OCD and the different types of OCD is essential for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment planning. OCD Treatments in Ottawa include: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, and repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS). Learn more about rTMS and novel treatments for OCD in Ottawa. TMS Life is a Mental Health Clinic that specialized in the treatment of depression, OCD and PTSD.