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Living Well

Conquering Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Last updated: Jul 16, 2015

“Most people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder may not be able to label their problem correctly, but they tend to know that something is wrong and that what they are doing and thinking is not healthy,” says Michael Likier, Ph.D. of Summit Medical Group’s Behavioral Health and Cognitive Therapy Center.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, checking on things, or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions. OCD often begins in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. Afflicting some 2.2 million Americans, OCD is equally common in men and women and across social classes and ethnicities. 1

According to Likier, OCD is triggered by fear, either an internal fear or something in the person’s environment.  People with OCD imagine that the “threat” they perceive will cause catastrophic consequences, and they believe that their obsessive behavior will somehow ward off impending catastrophe.

When do normal worries transfer to become something more serious?  Likier says that the actual context of the fears that people with OCD have may not be that different from fears everyone has, but it is the frequency and intensity of the fears that is different.  

What becomes especially problematic is when fear interferes with work and social relationships, affecting the quality of life.  

What differentiates a normal fear from OCD?

People with OCD generally:

  • Have repeated thoughts or images about many different things, such germs, dirt, or intruders; acts of violence; hurting loved ones; sexual acts; and religious beliefs.
  • Perform the same rituals repeatedly, such as washing hands, locking and unlocking doors, counting, or keeping unneeded items (hoarding).
  • Can't control the unwanted thoughts and behaviors
  • Don't get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but get brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause
  • Spend at least one hour a day on the thoughts and rituals, which cause distress and get in the way of daily life.2

Fortunately there is hope for individuals with OCD because there is treatment available from professionals, like Likier, who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating patients with this condition.  When he diagnosis a patient with OCD, he begins a cognitive behavioral therapy protocol especially targeted toward this population. He and the patient have to come to an agreement that what they are worried about is not the problem—it’s the way they respond to the fear.  In order to conquer that fear, Likier encourages people to have more exposures to what they are afraid of.  This can be a tremendous challenge to patients, but Likier helps them overcome that. Twelve to 20 sessions are typical to help a patient get on the road to recovery and normal functioning.  

“I ask my patients, ‘What has OCD robbed from you?  What has it done to your life’ and  I help them see that OCD is like an enemy.  It sets the rules, it games the odds, and OCD wins—if you let it,” Likier said.  

He notes that the brain cannot be rewired and the obsessive thoughts may stay.  However, compulsions can be “put in their place,” and in many cases when the compulsions can be controlled, the obsessive thoughts diminish.

“Anyone suffering from OCD knows how painful it is.  It robs you of quality of life in so many different ways,”   Likier says.  “People who have it try to hide it and cannot imagine that there is help for it.  I understand this and tell them ‘I know you are suffering and I know there is a way out.’”

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1. "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD." NIMH RSS. National Institute of Mental Health, 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 08 July 2015.

2. ibid.