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What Causes OCD & How Is It Treated? | Orlando OCD Specialists Share Information  

As OCD therapists in Orlando, we are often asked what causes OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a brain-based disorder that is thought to affect approximately 2 to 3 percent of the population.  OCD has many themes:  repetitious checking of stoves, doors and locks, contamination fears and handwashing, concern about violent or sexual thoughts, concern about morality, spirituality and relationships, concern about things not being even, perfect or right. These manifestations of OCD may all appear to be very different, yet they all share the same defining characteristics of OCD:  anxiety, distressing thoughts, uncontrollable rituals and an upsetting knowledge that the doubts and compulsive behaviors don’t make sense.

Yet it is virtually impossible or very difficult for a person with OCD to stop thinking the obsessive thought and refrain from endless checking, questioning, and reassurance seeking or engaging in other compulsive behaviors in order to quell the discomfort the obsessive doubts bring.  However, no amount of reassuring, answering questions, washing or checking ever satisfies the individual with OCD.  This is because doubt and uncertainty are at the core of OCD.

Family members are nearly always affected by the difficulties of OCD and research has found that the way loved ones respond to the person with OCD, contributes to maintaining or even worsening of OCD symptoms.  In an effort to help, loved ones often encourage or demand that the OCD suffer “just snap out of it” or “just stop” the compulsive behavior.  Often, they are told that they are “mentally weak” and many are made to feel terribly ashamed by well-meaning family members. Yet recovering from OCD is not simply a matter of willpower – no one with OCD enjoys doing what they do and if they could simply stop, they would. In fact, OCD sufferers typically feel as if they don’t have a choice.  This is not to say that the person with OCD isn’t responsible for his/her actions, they are.  But an individual in the middle of an OCD flare-up, is simply unable to stop and expecting them to do so, is unrealistic.  Being able to stop the compulsive behavior is the result of changing one’s behavior and thinking processes and requires a great deal of effort over a long, sustained period of time.

Researchers still haven’t found the exact cause of OCD, but scientific evidence suggests that OCD is both genetic and learned, which means that the biology with which you were born made you more vulnerable to developing OCD.  It is estimated that genetics contribute approximately 45%-65% of risk for developing OCD.  A recent large-scale analysis conducted on individuals with OCD included brain scan data that found that compared with non-OCD volunteers, individuals with OCD had considerably more activity in the specific brain areas involved in realizing they were making an error, but much less activity in the area of the brain that could help them to stop.  The research suggests that individuals with OCD may have an ineffective linkage between the brain system that connects their ability to identify errors and the system that regulates their ability to do something about the errors.  It is also thought that the individual with OCD overreacts to errors which in turn overwhelms their already compromised ability to tell themselves to stop.

Stress and a person’s upbringing are environmental factors that have been attributed to causing OCD.  Research has never indicated that stress or an individual’s upbringing causedthe onset of OCD.  However, stress can be a factor in triggering OCD in an individual who is genetically predisposed to OCD.  Stress can also worsen symptoms of existing OCD.

Research on the treatment of OCD is strong and has repeatedly shown that a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is most effective. Simply talking to a therapist about one’s obsessions and compulsive behaviors does not lead to improvements, neither does looking for a root cause or talking about one’s past.

At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our therapists specialize in providing evidence-based treatment utilizing ERP for adults and children suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).



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