Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?


People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experience unwanted and intrusive obsessions and/or compulsions. This involves experiencing thoughts and/or actions are not warranted (e.g. they know their hands are not dirty) but still feeling compelled to perform an action. This can be embarrassing for some people and they may go to great lengths to hide their behaviours from family, friends and even doctors. There may be significant interference to daily routines, relationships, and/or occupational or educational functioning.


The symptoms of OCD: What are obsessions and compulsions?


Obsessions can be thoughts, urges or mental images that are intrusive, repetitive, unwanted, and difficult to control. For example, if you have obsessive thoughts about the safety of your home, you may repeatedly check to make sure that the oven is turned off.


Compulsions are repetitive behaviours and rituals people use to reduce the discomfort caused by obsessions. Some compulsions, like washing and cleaning, can be observed. Other compulsions are hidden, like mentally checking a task has been done or compulsive praying. Compulsions can take up more than an hour each day and interfere significantly with a person’s life, disrupting daily routines, family life, relationships, work and/or study.


Common obsessions include:



Common compulsions include:

Fears about contamination or germs (e.g. fear of public restrooms, the flu)


Thoughts of death and physical violence (e.g. unwanted urge to harm a loved one)


Thoughts about accidental harm (e.g. accidentally hitting someone with your car)


Fear of engaging in socially unacceptable behaviour (e.g. singing at a friend's funeral)


A need for order and symmetry (e.g. need to place things in a certain way)


Unwanted sexual thoughts (e.g. thinking about a sexual act that you would find inappropriate or against your beliefs)


Unwanted blasphemous thoughts or religious doubts (e.g. thinking you've done something sinful that will anger God)


Nonsense phrases, images or sounds.









Compulsive praying


Arranging and performing daily tasks in a rigid fashion 


Mentally checking that something has been done


Counting things (e.g. ceiling tiles, the number of cars driving by)


Needing to be continually reassured (e.g. asking someone "Are you sure it's okay?")



Who gets OCD?


Obsessions and compulsions usually develop in a person’s teenage years. Each year, around 2 in 100 adults experience OCD, and it affects men and women equally. Symptoms may develop due to genetics, personality, as well as stressful life events.


Treatment for OCD


There are effective treatments available for OCD. For most, psychological treatments are effective. Family involvement in therapy and education can also be helpful. Medications are also available but should only be taken under guidance from a medical practitioner.


Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) combined with exposure and response prevention therapy (ERPT) is considered the most effective treatment for people experiencing OCD. 


CBT for OCD can reduce or eliminate the obsessions and/or rituals associated with feared situations by teaching you how to approach those situations without performing those mental and behavioural actions.


CBT is considered much more effective than medication in helping people manage and overcome OCD, and the benefits are better maintained over the long term.


Where can I receive treatment for OCD?


There are a number of ways you can access psychological treatment for OCD and you can choose a way that works best for you. This can be in-person with a mental health professional, or online with the support of a program.


By registering, you can access Mental Health Online’s free and comprehensive OCD assessment and treatment. You may like to do this by yourself in our self-guided option, but you can also opt for our free therapist-assisted program via email, chat, or video.


Explore other treatment options


For further information about treatment options and assistance:


Visit your GP


Explore other online therapies at Head to Health


Find a Psychologist through the Australian Psychological Society’s referral service


Contact your local community health centre


Last Updated : 22-Dec-2021