Have you ever checked the door twice to make sure it’s locked? Or doubled back home to ensure you did in fact turn off the stove? Perhaps you see some similar idiosyncrasies in your kids and laugh, only to wonder later if it’s something to be taken more seriously. How do we know if something is a legitimate problem? How do we, for example, know when we might be dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder, commonly known as OCD? Luckily, we know more today about disorders like OCD than we’ve ever known before, so arming yourself with the facts is easier. There are three basic facts to keep in mind when talking about OCD.
The first thing to know is that OCD is more than checking the door twice. It’s a biologically based brain illness that impairs a person to the point of interfering with living life. For the record, the above actions are not OCD. (In fact, checking the door twice is normal. Checking it 25 times might not be.) True OCD is characterized by distressing obsessions that cause excess worry and anxiety. These obsessive thoughts lead to compulsions, or rituals, someone does to relieve the anxiety that something horrific will happen if they don’t.
The second aspect of OCD to keep in mind is that it’s quite common. According to the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, 1 out of 100 school aged children will develop OCD. Typical diagnosis usually happens between ages 8-12 or in the late teens and early 20s. While it often begins in childhood, an accurate diagnosis and treatment can take up to 17 years.
The final fact to know (and this should be the most reassuring one) is that it’s highly treatable with the right course of action, including what we call exposure and response prevention (ERP). Not all therapists are trained in ERP treatment, so specifically checking for it is important when seeking professional help.
Joanna Hardis, LISW, is a cognitive behavioral therapist in Shaker Heights. A mother of three herself, Joanna combines years of everyday parenting experience with professional training in the areas of anxiety; changing family dynamics, such as divorce; and obsessive-compulsive and eating disorders all in an effort to support, coach and empower parents of behaviorally challenging kids. Joanna earned her undergraduate degree at Cornell University in New York and a master’s degree from Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University. Visit, joannahardis.com