Obsessions and compulsions

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that involves obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. It can affect anybody and can develop at any age, however, it usually occurs during early adulthood.

The symptoms of OCD are intrusive by nature and impact on everyday life. Getting help early is key and there are several treatment options available to get symptoms under control. On this page, we will explore obsessions and compulsions in more depth and look into the various treatment options. We’ll also discuss how hypnotherapy can provide further support during treatment.

Woman frightened by her thoughts

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Understanding obsessive-compulsive disorder

Before we look into getting support for OCD, let’s take a closer look at the condition itself and how it affects people. While the disorder can affect people in different ways, it generally causes the following behaviours:

Obsession

This is when an unwanted thought or urge enters the mind repeatedly. Usually, this thought is distressing, for example, “If I don’t check the light switch X amount of times, my house will catch fire”.

Anxiety

Understandably, such an intrusive and distressing thought leads to feelings of stress and anxiety.

Compulsion

Typically there will then be an urge, or compulsion, to carry out an action. This may be physical (like hand washing) or mental (like counting).  

Temporary relief

Carrying out this action will temporarily quell the feelings of stress and anxiety. However, obsessional thoughts and anxiety soon return and the cycle begins again.

As obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder, tackling anxiety is key. This is an area a hypnotherapist can support you with. Hypnotherapy encourages relaxation and speaks to you on a subconscious level to change thought patterns.

In the following video, journalist and mental health writer Hattie Gladwell, who lives with OCD, shows what a week in her life is like.

Obsessions and compulsions

Many of us experience intrusive thoughts from time to time. When these thoughts become persistent and dominate your thinking, it can become an ‘obsession’.

Those with OCD tend to have upsetting obsessions such as:

  • fear of hurting themselves or others (deliberate or accidental)
  • fear of being ‘contaminated’ by germs/bacteria
  • a fear of becoming unwell or dying (commonly known as ‘health anxiety’)
  • a desire for symmetry

The thoughts may be violent or even sexual in nature and can be very stressful for the person affected.

Compulsions to carry out a certain behaviour is the mind’s way of trying to prevent this anxiety (even if logically the behaviour and thought aren’t linked). The behaviours will differ from person to person but may include:

  • cleaning
  • counting
  • repeating words
  • actions
  • checking (i.e. checking doors are locked, taps are off)

Even though the person with OCD will likely be aware that the behaviours are irrational, the urge to carry it out overwhelms them. And as it offers temporary relief from the anxiety they’re feeling, doing it ‘just in case’ or to rid themselves of said anxiety can become the norm.

As the condition worsens, it becomes all-consuming and some people struggle to carry out daily tasks or even leave the house.

This sort of thinking on a healthy level is what keeps us organised and safe, and are generally the sorts of things we all think of on a daily basis. Have I switched the cooker off or locked the door? Did I remember to wash my hands before lunch? However, with OCD, this form of thinking will take up a large part of the person's time, and often take over their lives. Working with OCD needs a lot of patience on the part of both therapist and client, and getting results is a step by step process.

- In this article, Roger Foxwell MBSCH DHyp ARMCM explores how hypnotherapy can help OCD.

Getting help

If you think you may have obsessive-compulsive disorder, your first port of call should be your doctor. Remember that everyone has mental health and many of us need professional support to help us from time to time.

Your doctor will be able to assess you and determine whether or not it is OCD you’re struggling with. They can then explain to you which treatments are recommended.

Woman talking to her doctor

Reducing stress and anxiety

Symptoms of OCD are often exacerbated during times of high stress or anxiety. Part of your treatment plan should, therefore, include techniques to help reduce stress/anxiety. This is an area where hypnotherapy can be especially useful.

A hypnotherapist can teach you self-hypnosis techniques to help manage stress and anxiety. This typically involves visualisation and breathing techniques which you can call upon when you need to.

OCD treatment

The two most common courses of treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder are:

  • psychological therapy (usually a specialised form of cognitive behavioural therapy, CBT)
  • medication (usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs, to help balance chemicals in the brain)  

Many people find that psychological therapies like CBT help, but may need extra support from medication. There is no ‘quick fix’ for anxiety conditions and there is no guarantee a certain approach will work for you.

If you are keen to explore other approaches alongside those recommended by your doctor, you may want to consider hypnotherapy for OCD.

I can manage things better now. I know it’s still there inside of me but I’m not thinking about it all the time. I lead a normal life, can work, look after my children, and I feel very relieved to not have it overwhelm me and overtake my life like it did when I was younger.

- Happiful founder Aimi learned to manage her obsessive-compulsive behaviour through counselling and sharing - but it wasn't an easy journey. Read Aimi’s story

Hypnotherapy for OCD

For some people, hypnotherapy can be helpful for OCD - whether it’s looking to help overcome the disorder itself, or to help reduce stress and anxiety.

If you’re considering hypnotherapy and you are currently having another course of psychological treatment (such as CBT), it is worth explaining this to your psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. Between them, they can ensure you’re getting the best out of each treatment and that there is no conflicting or overlapping content.

Hypnotherapy works with the unconscious mind, the part we are not aware of, or are able to influence normally. Hypnotherapy works by putting you in a relaxed state so that the hypnotherapist can access this part of the mind. Once accessed, they can then influence it using suggestion techniques.

This therapy can, therefore, bring about a change in thinking patterns by working on a deeper level. The aim is to change your way of thinking to give you back control over OCD and to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

If you are interested in hypnotherapy, you can use our search tool to find a hypnotherapist.

Some of the techniques used are similar to cognitive behavioural therapy, however, it works on an unconscious basis rather than a conscious one.

As well as supporting in this way, hypnotherapy for OCD can be a helpful way to learn relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis. Many hypnotherapists will offer to show you self-hypnosis techniques, which you can then take from your sessions and apply them to your everyday life.

Hypnotherapy is not guaranteed to work for everyone, however, it is a safe and natural approach that many find helpful. When used as a complementary therapy to support you, it can be a useful tool to help overcome mental health concerns like OCD.

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