Obsessive compulsive disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by the presence of either obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions are frequent, disturbing thoughts that the person is unable to prevent (e.g., repeated thoughts of harming oneself or another person). Compulsions are usually specific behaviors (e.g., handwashing due to a fear of germs) that the individual feels compelled to perform over and over again; being prevented from engaging in these behaviors causes extreme anxiety. OCD patients recognize that their obsessions or compulsions are excessive.
There are two primary methods of treatment for OCD. Exposure therapy is a method in which the OCD sufferer is exposed to the thing that he or she fears and prevented from engaging in compensating behaviors. For example, a patient who washes his hands for hours due to fear of germs may be exposed to germs in a public restroom and not allowed to wash his hands. Repeated exposure teaches the patient that the fear is excessive, diminishing anxiety and compulsive behavior. OCD is also sometimes treated with SSRIs, a form of anti-depressant medication. Exposure therapy is generally considered the preferable mode of treatment, because the effects are long-lasting, whereas the beneficial effects of medication fade when the drug is discontinued.