All Topics

Help With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, checking on things or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.

Many people without OCD have distressing thoughts or repetitive behaviors. However, these thoughts and behaviors do not typically disrupt daily life. For people with OCD, thoughts are persistent, and behaviors are rigid. Not performing the behaviors commonly causes great distress. Many people with OCD know or suspect their obsessions are not realistic; others may think they could be true (known as limited insight). Even if they know their obsessions are not realistic, people with OCD have difficulty disengaging from the obsessive thoughts or stopping the compulsive actions.

Read more on symptoms & treatment 

People casually talk about being “obsessed” or even use the term “OCD” in a casual context. What is the distinction between normal, or even “quirky,” behavior, such as liking a very clean house, and the disorder?

The often off-hand or casual way OCD is referred to in the media or in everyday conversion may make it seem that the obsessions or compulsions are just something annoying or amusing that a person could “get over.” But for people with OCD it’s not a simple annoyance, it is all-consuming anxiety associated with the obsessive thoughts.

Many people will at times have concerning thoughts or prefer a clear routine and structure. But for people with OCD, the thoughts become overwhelming and create a great deal of anxiety. Compulsions associated with OCD disrupt normal daily activities. A diagnosis of OCD requires that the obsession or compulsions take more than one hour a day and cause major distress or cause problems at home, work or other function. More

I have OCD, any suggestions on how to talk to family and friends about it?

Talking about your ODC and deciding who to tell are personal decisions. Family and friends can be an important source of support and understanding. They may have noticed changes in your behavior and talking about it could provide them with a better understanding and the ability to be more supportive.

In addition to the basic information on this help page, suggestions for other sources of information include the National Institute on Mental Health – NIMH-OCD page, the International OCD Foundation and NAMI’s OCD page.

Personal stories of people living with OCD can also be very useful in helping someone understand what it is like. Some examples include


Will OCD symptoms typically get worse over time if a person does not get treated?

Some people with mild OCD improve without treatment. More moderate or severe OCD usually requires treatment. However, there are often periods of time when the symptoms get better. There may also be times when symptoms get worse, such as when a person is stressed or depressed. More

I have a family member recently diagnosed with ODC, how can I best help and support her?

Try to learn as much as you can about OCD, what it’s like, and what options are available to treat and manage the disorder. Remember to view compulsive behaviors as part of a medical condition and not personality traits or a matter of simple choice. Recognize small accomplishments – what may seem like a small change may actually take significant effort. Be patient – remember progress may be slow and symptoms may increase or decrease at times. Be mindful of changes — any change, including positive change, can be stressful and increase OCD symptoms. Work together with your family member to develop a family plan with agreed upon actions for managing symptoms. For example, set limits on discussions relating to obsessions/compulsions. Assistance from a mental health professional may be useful. More

APA Headshot - T Gorrindo 091317.jpg

About the Expert:

Tristan Gorrindo, M.D.
Chief of Education
American Psychiatric Association

Editor's Choice

JAN 7 2021

Houston boxer Virginia Fuchs details her personal battle with O.C.D.

The U.S. Olympic team boxer is an advocate for mental health. Houstonian Virginia “Ginny” Fuchs is no stranger to challenges, both in and out the ring. She’s the captain of the women’s USA Boxing team and is preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The 32-year-old flyweight boxer has achieved this accomplishment, all while dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD.) “I’m still working on it today with my therapist and, over the past years, it has really taken a toll on me. But boxing has kept me being able to fight it and being able to live a normal life or not let OCD take over my life,” said Fuchs. 

JAN 6, 2021

Stress over pandemic makes OCD symptoms worse in some children
Washington Post

Over time and with treatment for her severe form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Renée, now 36, reached an imperfect equilibrium. She had gotten to the point where she was able to eat lunch with her colleagues in the break room of the Philadelphia school where she teaches technology. She was enjoying working with her students. Then last winter, as news of the coronavirus bubbled up in China, South Korea, Italy, Spain, and not long after, the United States, Renée found her years of therapy upended.

JAN 6, 2021 

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Benefited Patients With Severe Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Psychiatry Advisor

Transcranial magnetic stimulation dTMS is an option for those who continue to exhibit symptoms following an adequate response to first line interventions. A prospective, double-blind, placebo sham-controlled study by researchers from Baylor College of Medicine found that patients with a higher symptom severity of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) were more likely to respond to deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS). The results were published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.


Additional Resources and Organizations

Physician Reviewed
Hector Colon-Rivera, M.D., CMRO
Molly Howland, M.D.
December 2020