Am I Living With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

By Jess Hayes - 07/11/2020

OCDUK, a national UK charity formed and run by people with lived experience of OCD, found that the delay between someone first experiencing symptoms of OCD and them actually accessing help is often between 10 and 15 years. This means that many people will struggle with their OCD for a long time, often over a decade, before they are able to seek help. But why? Many people do not know much about OCD and are unsure how to recognise it. In combination with this, OCD often includes extremely distressing thoughts and beliefs that people assume are true, and so the thought of talking about these with anyone can feel terrifying.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is an anxiety-based disorder, in which someone will often experience intrusive, unwanted thoughts and/or images (or ‘obsessions’) that are usually very distressing. In response to these obsessions, the person will feel the need to complete behaviours or rituals in response (or ‘compulsions’). The aim of these compulsions is often to either prevent harm or consequences that the obsessions will tell them are going to come true, or to reduce anxiety caused by the obsessions.

A common misconception is that OCD is something that just leads people to wash their hands often, place things in certain orders, or check things have been switched off a few times before leaving the house. OCD is often a lot more extreme than this and it can affect all aspects of a person’s life. Severe OCD is extremely debilitating and it is often the things that nobody else can see that can have the biggest impact on someone. Here are some examples of what someone with OCD may experience every day (taken from many clients that I have worked with);

  • Violent images of harming your child, so not holding them in case this means you want to hurt them.
  • Thoughts that you will infect someone, so excessively washing hands and cleaning to try and prevent this.
  • Urges to repeatedly lock things and check them until they feel ‘right’ that can result in longer and longer routines you need to do before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • Unwanted feelings and images when you see children that you believe could mean you are a paedophile, that lead you to avoid being around children and mentally reliving all past experiences to look for signs that the thought is true.
  • A constant feeling that ‘something is wrong’, leading you to constantly check your health and seek reassurance from other people and through the internet or healthcare professionals.

Some people may have compulsions that can be noticed by others but as you can see with some of the examples above, many of these will remain the secret of the person struggling. In addition to this, the types of thoughts and images can be so distressing and against the morals of the person experiencing them, that they worry about what this means about them as a person and also what others may think about them. This makes it really hard to get help, and highlights just how important it is to build an awareness of what OCD is and how people can get support.

Key Things to Know

If you or someone you know identifies with any of the information above, here are some key things to know;

  1. Your thoughts do not define you; People often worry that the thoughts they get reflect who they are as a person, their intentions or desires. We know now that this is not the case. In fact, in OCD the thoughts and images someone gets are often the exact opposite of the person’s actual values and moral beliefs. This is one of the things that makes OCD so distressing.
  2. You are not alone; OCD is much more common than we once thought. The thoughts vary massively and it might seem that nobody else could possibly have felt the way you have or had the same types of thoughts. Connecting to other people or watching/reading stories from people with OCD can help you to feel less alone. Some ideas of where to start can be found in the information and support section below.
  3. There is help; I will explain below how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help with OCD and there is a lot of evidence to show how effective this is. There are also other options for support such as medication and other therapies. You can access support through the GP, through a private therapist, or through OCD charities (some places to start are in the information and support section below).

How Can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Help?

CBT is an evidence-based therapy based on the knowledge that our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and responses all interact with each other. It starts with building an understanding of how these things influence each other within your difficulties and then focuses on helping you to change the way you think and respond to make you feel better.

As described briefly above, OCD is characterised by thoughts and responses (which are both impacted by both physical feelings and emotions) and so CBT helps you to understand why this is happening and what is keeping your OCD going, so you and your therapist can work together to unpick this and help you to feel better. A big part of this is coming to an understanding of why you are feeling and thinking in this way and learning to change things for yourself. This process is proven to help with OCD and is recommended by the NHS. It takes hard work and can be uncomfortable at times, but if you feel able to commit to trying this it can have some amazing results.

The idea of challenging thoughts or changing your responses might feel scary and impossible right now but this should always be done with you in control; your therapist will make sure you both have a good understanding of what might be able to help and why and then you will be able to choose what to try and when with some guidance from your therapist.

ReImagine Therapy Help for OCD

At ReImagine Therapy, a lot of people have reached out for support with OCD and the results have been incredible. This is something that Jessica Hayes, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at ReImagine Therapy, has a lot of experience in helping with. A lot of time has been dedicated to furthering understanding of how to help people with OCD using CBT, which will always be ongoing to ensure that people are getting the best treatment possible. If you would like to discuss how Jess can help, please contact ReImagine Therapy here: Contact for us for help

Information and Support:

Some stories and examples from people with OCD explaining how it feels for them:

Some organisations that include information and support options:

Guidelines for treatment of OCD:

Information where you can find a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist near you who is accredited by the national body of CBT in the UK. You can also look up a CBT therapist here by name to see if they are accredited: