Frequently asked questions

So many questions about OCD? You are not alone! We have provided responses to questions people commonly ask about OCD.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

OCD can present in many different ways but some of the common themes of OCD include:

  • contamination fears
  • existential questions
  • checking (fearing something bad will happen if you don’t lock doors, check appliances are off etc.)
  • relationship questions
  • sexual orientation questions
  • harm fears
  • magical thinking (worrying that something terrible will happen if you don’t perform certain rituals)
  • paedophilia fears

One of the criteria used to help distinguish OCD from occasional intrusive thoughts or repetitive behaviours, is that the obsessions and compulsions must be time-consuming, or cause significant distress or impairment.

Is OCD genetic?

It is thought that OCD is both biological and learned. A recent study has offered more insight into the biological cause of OCD, confirming that OCD sufferers experience an imbalance in certain signalling pathways within the brain linked to emotional regulation and reward. Learn more here.

How is OCD diagnosed?

Typically, a psychologist or psychiatrist will make a diagnosis of OCD. An assessment of symptoms and history will be carried out using criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Before going to see a psychologist or psychiatrist, (and if you live in Australia) it is recommended that you visit your GP to get a mental health plan so you can access a rebate on your sessions. For tips on getting a mental health plan, click here.

What is the difference between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)?

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a personality disorder underpinned by perfectionism and rigidity in relation to rules and regulations. Some symptoms of OCPD include:

  • excessive fixation with orderliness, details and rules
  • rigid moral and ethical codes
  • perfectionism which affects the completion of tasks
  • hoarding behaviours
  • extreme frugality

While people with OCD will generally understand that their thoughts and behaviours are illogical or unreasonable, those with OCPD believe that their behaviour is warranted or the ‘right’ way to go about things and they generally don’t feel like they require treatment.

What is the difference between OCD and anxiety?

While many people with OCD can experience anxiety, and many of those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to experience intrusive thoughts, there are some significant differences:

  • While those with OCD tend to worry about thoughts that are irrational or unlikely, those with GAD are likely to ruminate about real life concerns (e.g. school, work, family, financial concerns)
  • Those with GAD will spend lots of time worrying, but won’t necessarily spend time performing rituals to neutralize the fears.

Can OCD be treated?

Yes. There is broad consensus amongst experts from around the world that a combination of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy and/or medication is the most effective treatment for OCD. Learn more here.

Can OCD be cured?

We can never get rid of our intrusive thoughts (no one can!) but we can change our behavioural responses to the thoughts. By responding to triggering thoughts with behaviors over a long period of time, we create neural pathways in the brain. To override these pathways you have to create new ones, which is where exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy comes in. With a lot of work and commitment to ERP, and in some cases with the help of medication, it is possible to get to a point where you are triggered by a thought, and yet you don’t perform a compulsion. However, being symptom-free will never mean being free of the disturbing thoughts, because they are a universal experience.

How do I tell people I’ve got OCD?

Disclosure about mental ill health is really personal; there is no ‘right or wrong’ way to approach this. Sharing your experience of OCD with others can be empowering but it can also be difficult.

Prior to sharing your experience of OCD, it may be useful to identify what you feel comfortable to share to reduce the risk of feeling overexposed. A psychologist can support you to identify these parameters and even practice sharing your OCD experience with them through role play to increase your confidence in sharing with others.

You can also ask your psychologist if a loved one can attend a session with your psychologist so they can explain your experience of OCD to them.

You can also share So OCD with someone to help them to learn about OCD, this in turn takes the pressure off you to have to explain it yourself.

It’s important to remember that you are not responsible for managing other people’s responses or feelings about your disclosure.

What should I do if I think my child has OCD?

If you are worried about symptoms that your child is displaying and their behaviour is rigid, impacting their functioning and putting more pressure on the family as a whole, it would be a good idea to seek help from a professional who has experience treating OCD. Kids are treated in much the same way as adults- primarily with medication and/or ERP.

A good start would be to chat with your GP about the symptoms and asking for a referral to a pediatrician or child psychiatrist as well as seeking out a psychologist.

My partner has OCD- how can I best support them?

There are many ways people can show support for a loved one who has OCD, and everyone’s support needs and desires will be different, so it’s important you jointly identify what strategies support your situation.

Taking the time to educate yourself about OCD and your loved ones experience of OCD can be helpful in providing support, but also sustaining yourself. In this podcast we discuss what family members and friends can do to support their loved ones with OCD.

I want professional support but every psychologist I contact is not taking on new clients or has long wait times- what do I do?

It’s really tough when you’re seeking timely professional support but come up against barriers to get when you need it. It’s important to know other supports are available while you are waiting to see your preferred psychologist. For some resources and tips you may find useful click here.

I can’t afford a private psychologist but need psychological support- where do I turn?

To lower the cost of therapy, make sure you get a mental health care plan from your General Practitioner (GP), which enables you to get a rebate on 10 sessions with your psychologist. 10 rebateable sessions are also available for group therapy.

Click here for other treatment options, such as online programs and support groups.

Where can I find group therapy options?

Here are some suggestions for group programs that operate in Australia, both online and face-to-face.

OCD STOP Program
OCD Online Group Program
Melbourne Wellbeing Group
WayAhead OCD Online Anxiety Support Group

Got a question about OCD?

Please submit a question via the form on our Contact page.