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What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
Reviewed by:
Authored by:
Austin Lin, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
July 8, 2021
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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is defined by excessive unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that cause significant anxiety, which may result in repetitive behaviors (compulsions) to decrease that anxiety. 

The term OCD is often used rather casually, like when a person is characterized as a "germaphobe" or someone who wants everything organized in a specific way. Many of us may exhibit OCD-like symptoms occasionally, but most of us can handle these symptoms and get on with our daily lives. A diagnosed case of OCD, however, is much more severe and complex. 

OCD is diagnosed by the presence of obsessions and compulsions that are time-consuming (sometimes up to several hours a day), cause significant distress, and interfere with social or occupational functioning. Particular themes are often emphasized or exaggerated in OCD. For example, when a person is constantly afraid of being infected by germs, this may lead them to spend hours washing their hands excessively until their hands are chapped and sore.

It may be time to seek treatment if obsessions or compulsions take over your life, impact everyday activities or trigger extreme anxiety throughout the day.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms

Our psychiatrists diagnose OCD by the symptoms, behaviors, and conditions listed and defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

The following are symptoms one might experience when diagnosed with OCD:

  • Fear of being contaminated with germs or dirt or of infecting others
  • Fear of losing control and harming yourself or others
  • Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images
  • Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
  • Fear of losing or not having things you might need
  • Excessive double-checking of things such as locks, appliances, and switches
  • Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they're safe
  • Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety
  • Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning

Treatment options for OCD

Our psychiatrists work to find the appropriate medication and therapy for people with OCD based on various factors such as age, symptoms, and severity. Specialized OCD treatment typically results in a better quality of life and improved functioning for patients. In addition to a better quality of life, the treatment will enable them to work, attend school, and participate in leisure activities without disruptions. 

Medication management

Our psychiatrists specializing in OCD work individually with each patient to determine if medication will help control the obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD.

If medication is an appropriate choice, the most common type of medication prescribed to treat OCD is an SSRI or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. SSRIs tend to be the most frequently prescribed medication for depression and are also helpful in treating OCD. In general, OCD patients receive higher doses of these medications than those with depression. Our OCD specialists will work with you and your specific needs to prescribe the right medication at the right dose.

It's important to note that treatment is not always accompanied by medication and can vary based on each patient's severity and response to other psychotherapy treatments.


Psychotherapy is emphasized in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The two scientifically-based methods of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for treating OCD are cognitive therapy and exposure and response prevention (ERP).

Cognitive therapy is conducted by one of our psychiatrists who has special training in treating OCD. Therapy sessions involve intentionally exposing patients to feared thoughts or images related to their obsessions, which initially increase anxiety. If nothing harmful happens following repeated exposure, the patient eventually becomes desensitized and experiences less anxiety in response to the obsessions.

Cognitive therapy is often coupled with ERP, particularly when compulsions are prominent. ERP therapy also exposes patients to their obsessions, but they are asked to not engage in compulsive behaviors that usually relieve anxiety. Eventually, your brain learns that nothing terrible happens when you stop performing compulsive rituals. It may seem unconventional, but this new way of confronting your fears leads directly to fewer and less intense fears or obsessions. 

About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a psychiatric practice that offers outpatient mental health services, including diagnosis, psychotherapy, and medication management to patients living with OCD.

We believe in providing accessible, affordable mental health management solutions, which is why we provide personalized in-network healthcare services that are focused on helping you feel better, faster. In addition, to match our therapeutic and modern approach to psychiatric care, we offer flexible telemedicine and in-office appointment options.

OCD is a relatively common mental health disorder that can be treated with the help of our experienced psychiatrists. If you believe you have OCD, we highly recommend you start by taking our free and easy assessment to receive a preliminary diagnosis so you can better understand your current symptoms. In addition, we will match you with a Talkiatry psychiatrist who can assist you in managing and treating your OCD. 

Take the assessment today to get started.

Talkiatry is a mental health practice, and our clinicians review everything we write. However, articles are never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may need mental health help, talk to a psychiatrist. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.

Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.

Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.

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