Individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) typically experience negative thoughts or images which they perceive as unwanted, distasteful or distressing, and they may feel compelled to perform certain behaviours to reduce the anxiety associated with having these thoughts or images (e.g., praying, checking, or cleaning).
A client’s obsessions may include thoughts of contamination, sexual or religious images, or thoughts of having done something that may have caused harm to others.
Compulsions are behaviours the person carries out to prevent a feared outcome. These behaviours may include checks that the doors of the house are locked or that all appliances are off, ritualised counting, or other repeated behaviours the person performs to prevent something bad from happening.
If the compulsive behaviour is interrupted or prevented, this can be very distressing for the individual. Often people with OCD are aware that their behaviours cannot realistically prevent a feared outcome, but feel unable to stop carrying them out.