By David Joel Miller.
Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders.
Obsessive-compulsive is a label that is frequently misused. Most people, when they say they are obsessive-compulsive, mean that they have strong preferences for the way they want the thing to be done. In the mental health field, what we mean by Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders are a group of disorders which seriously interfere with a person’s relationships, their ability to work, cause them distress, or prevent them from engaging in other important activities.
A personal story about compulsions to illustrate this difference.
I have a preferred breakfast meal. It comes frozen and is relatively inexpensive. Each week when I do the grocery shopping, I buy enough for the following week. I tend to eat this meal every day. Should I end up traveling, or get behind schedule I’m open to eating something else.
Someone with OCD or a related disorder might feel that their failure to eat the required breakfast, could cause their day to be ruined. They might believe, even though they know it is illogical, that their failure to eat the required breakfast, in a specific order, could result in someone starving to death, or harm coming to a family member. These beliefs that their actions or inactions, can cause harm results in an overwhelming compulsion to perform actions.
I have used an extremely exaggerated example here, but I hope you can see the difference between an extremely strong preference and a compulsion. A compulsion is something you feel forced to do even when it makes no sense. It is as if the person with OCD is being controlled by an outside force.
Defining obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are persistent, unwanted, and intrusive thoughts, urges, or pictures that you can’t get out of your head. Compulsions are the things people feel required to do to reduce the tension caused by the obsessions. These behaviors are often done a specific number of times. Compulsions may involve inflexible rules which must be obeyed to prevent something bad happening. Some Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders involve self-injury, like hair pulling or skin picking, which continues despite efforts reduce or stop the behavior.
Classifying Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders.
In the past, Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders were scattered throughout the diagnostic manual. Some of these disorders were in the chapter on anxiety; some were mixed in with impulse control disorders, others were under somatoform disorders. A few were not even recognized as mental illnesses in the past. In the most recent DSM-5, these issues were brought together in a single Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders chapter.
Sometimes it’s hard for professionals to diagnose which disorder a person has. It is possible for one person to have several of the Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders. Many people with Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders also have anxiety disorders, trauma and stressor-related disorders and some form of depression.
OCD leads the Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders parade.
Among the Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders, the best-known disorder is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a serious mental health issue which is estimated to affect between 1% and 2% of the population worldwide.
Other Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders include Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Hoarding Disorder, Trichotillomania, (hair pulling), and excoriation (skin picking). All of these disorders significantly interfere with people’s lives. Symptoms in these disorders recur, despite repeated efforts to control or stop the Obsessive-Compulsive Related Behaviors.
Substances and medications can cause, or induce, Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders. Some medical conditions can also cause obsessive-compulsive behaviors. In the DSM-5 they are also seven other conditions lumped together under the heading Other Specified Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders. One of those conditions is Obsessional Jealousy. This is one of the few times jealousy counts as a symptom of a mental health disorder. More on Obsessional Jealousy in a future post.
Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders.
The primary treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is exposure and response prevention therapy. While exposure and response prevention therapy has some similarities to systematic desensitization, which is used to treat specific phobias, relatively few therapists are trained in exposure and response prevention therapy.
For more information on Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders see:
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Excoriation (skin picking)
David Joel Miller MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC.) Mr. Miller provides supervision for beginning counselors and therapists and teaches at the local college in the Substance Abuse Counseling program.
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