What is Obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Most people have occasions where they feel anxious thoughts and find themselves worrying about everyday things such as ‘have I remembered to lock the house?’ – causing them to go back and make sure before driving away. However, it’s when those thoughts keep happening over and over, causing unhealthy patterns of behaviour, when you may have a reason for concern.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes a person to experience recurring, unwanted thoughts or ideas (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviours, such turning switches on and off, checking on things or excessive cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.

A lot of people have focused thoughts or repeated patterns of behaviours. But these do not disrupt daily life and may even add some needed structure to make life easier. For people with OCD, thoughts are persistent, unwanted routines and behaviours are rigid and if they are unable to act on them, a person with OCD feels an enormous amount of stress.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

The signs and symptoms that commonly concern people with OCD and result in compulsive behaviour include:

  • Counting: Continuously needing to count various objects or items, such as counting the cars driving past or the number of steps as they walk
  • Hoarding: Never throwing away old magazines or junk mail
  • Cleanliness: Extreme cleaning of their home or hands, from the fear of germs
  • Safety: Irrational fears about themselves or others being hurt or in danger, which can result in compulsive behaviours such as repeatedly checking whether the stove has been turned off or that windows and doors are locked
  • Religious issues: The constant need to pray numerous times a day to the point where they can’t see to their other daily activities and responsibilities
  • Sexual issues: Having an irrational sense of disgust regarding sexual activity

It’s not uncommon for people suffering from OCD to experience co-morbid conditions such as depression, eating disorders and/or suffering from drug and alcohol issues.

While many people with OCD know or suspect their obsessions are not true; others may think they could be true (known as poor insight). Even if they know their obsessions are not true, people with OCD have a difficult time breaking their focus from the obsessions or stopping the compulsive actions.

How common is OCD?

Around three percent of Australians experience some form of OCD during their lives.

Two percent of Australians are affected by symptoms of OCD in a 12-month period. Research also shows that there is no discrepancy between genders, both males and females are equally affected.  OCD can develop at any stage of your life, with some children displaying signs as early as six years old but not usually exhibiting the full spectrum symptoms until adolescence.

What are the causes of OCD?

OCD is thought to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental aspects. Factors specific to OCD include:

  • Biological factors: OCD has been linked to a number of neurological factors and in particular, the irregular levels of the chemical serotonin, which is responsible for transmitting messages between brain cells. The research into the chemical, structural and functional changes or abnormalities in the brain are ongoing.
  • Environmental:  There are some suggestions from industry experts that OCD may develop as a result of learned behaviour, either by direct conditioning (e.g. developing a washing compulsion after contracting a disease from contact with an infected person or animal) or learning by watching the behaviour of others, such as parents.
  • Genetics: OCD may have a genetic component, but the exact genes are yet to be identified.

Factors that may increase the risk of developing or triggering obsessive-compulsive disorder include:

  • Stressful life events: If you’ve experienced traumatic or stressful events, your risk may increase. This reaction may, for some reason, trigger the intrusive thoughts, rituals and emotional distress characteristic of OCD.
  • Family history: Having parents or other family members with the disorder can increase your risk of developing OCD.
  • Other mental health disorders:  OCD may be related to other mental health disorders, such as other anxiety disorders or tic disorders.

There are a number of problems that may result untreated OCD which include, health issues, strained relationships, an inability to participate within society via the work place or education settings, as well as suicidal thought and behaviours.

Many people with OCD know or suspect their obsessions are not true; others may think they could be true (known as poor insight). Even if they know their obsessions are not true, people with OCD have a hard time keeping their focus off the obsessions or stopping the compulsive actions.

Help options for OCD

At Brain Training Australia we use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Neurofeedback Brain Training to help our clients struggling with Obsessisive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Let us help you. Here is how to get started.


Funding options available Private Health, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Medicare, Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA), to cover part of, if not all of your Brain Training Program with us (see our Fees Page).