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Do you have recurring unwanted thoughts that interfere with your daily life? Then you may be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Here we explain what it is and how you can get help.

What are obsessive thoughts?

Obsessions are recurrent, persistent and unwanted thoughts, images or impulses that a person finds disturbing and cause anxiety or discomfort. The thoughts can be about different things but common themes include fear of hurting others, sexual themes but can also be related to compulsions such as checking the stove or turning off lights.

They are a central part of what characterizes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). About 1-2% of the Irish population have OCD, but many people have obsessions that do not fully meet diagnostic criteria. It is a condition that can cause a lot of suffering and limitations in everyday life, but there is effective treatment for it.

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Why do people get OCD?

The causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which is a central part of obsessive-compulsive disorder, are complex and thought to be due to a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. It is important to note that there is no single specific cause of OCD, but rather an interplay of different factors.

Obsessive thoughts in children

OCD in children can be part of OCD and can affect the child’s daily life and well-being in many ways. It can mean that the child has constantly recurring thoughts that are unpleasant or frightening. These thoughts are often irrational or exaggerated and the child may do various compulsive acts as a consequence. This can lead to anxiety and interfere with everyday activities. The child also often seeks reassurance from adults and asks many questions. Children may also experience increased negative emotions from OCD such as anger and withdrawal.

Why children develop OCD is not fully understood but the causes are likely to be similar to adults, although stressful events such as divorce, bereavement or changing schools can make the condition worse.

What can you do as a parent of a child with OCD?

If you have a child with obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD, you can try to educate yourself in order to provide adequate support but also contact a child psychologist or doctor if necessary. It is also important to create a supportive environment for expressing feelings at home and not to reinforce compulsive behaviors. If necessary, you can also talk to the school. It is good to seek help as soon as possible so that the problems do not get worse in the long run.

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Obsessions and neuropsychiatric problems

Many people with neuropsychiatric problems, such as autism, suffer from obsessive thoughts. This may be because they are detail-oriented and perfectionist. Problems with flexibility can also lead to people getting stuck in thoughts about how they should be. If you have been diagnosed or believe you have autism, you can seek help from a licensed psychologist or occupational therapist to help you manage your thoughts, feelings and behaviors in everyday life that become problematic.

OCD and perfectionism

OCD, which is the diagnosis for compulsive thoughts and actions, is similar to perfectionism. To reduce anxiety, people perform various behaviors or rituals that can take up time and energy. If you don’t perform the compulsion, you may have catastrophic thoughts and strong fears. Examples of OCD include turning lights on and off, checking the stove or washing your hands for fear of germs. OCD is similar to perfectionism because people often want to do the compulsion in a certain specific and exact way to get emotional relief. OCD can be treated, but it may require a little more effort.

Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive thoughts often occur as part of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the symptoms can vary from person to person, but often follow similar patterns. They can vary in severity, with some people having mild symptoms while others have severe ones, and symptoms can vary over time, with periods of minor problems.

OCD consists mainly of obsessions and compulsions, with obsessions being intrusive and recurrent thoughts while compulsions are repetitive behaviors such as washing hands, counting, checking things. Compulsions can also be mental, such as repeating certain words to reduce anxiety. They may also ask a lot of questions to their surroundings and seek other reassurances to reduce anxiety, which may work temporarily but the anxiety often comes back. Obsessions can also include fear of dirt or germs, doubting whether you have turned off the stove, needing to organise things in certain ways, fear of certain thoughts of a sexual or violent nature and a fear that you will act on your thoughts even though you have never done so before.

It is important to emphasise that obsessions and compulsions are experienced as unwanted and forced by the individual, and they create significant suffering or disability. Anxiety and stress may be high in general and the problems may lead to feelings of shame and isolation. People with these symptoms should seek professional help to get effective treatment.

Treatment of obsessions

It is important to seek professional help if you or someone you know is suffering from OCD. A psychiatrist or psychologist can offer a personalised treatment plan and help find the most effective combination of interventions. The treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) usually involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. For more severe problems, a referral to specialist psychiatry can be made through your health care provider.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

This is the most effective form of psychotherapy for OCD. CBT involves identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. One tool in CBT, known as exposure and response prevention (ERP), is particularly effective in OCD. It involves gradually exposing the patient to their fears or obsessions and learning to avoid performing compulsive acts in response. This is done in a process that is safe and predictable.


Some people with OCD may benefit from medication, such as antidepressants (especially SSRIs). These medications can help control anxiety symptoms, making it easier to participate in therapy and daily activities.

Support groups and education

Attending support groups and learning more about their syndrome can help patients and their families manage the condition better. This in turn can reduce feelings of isolation and help with treatment.

Seeking help can change your life

OCD is not something you need to deal with on your own. Talking to a professional therapist or psychologist can not only help you understand your problem better but also offer CBT treatment to deal with it. You are not alone and it is okay to ask for help.

Your next step

If you or someone you know is struggling with obsessive thoughts and beliefs, it is a good idea to talk to a professional therapist or psychologist. We assure you that all therapists and psychologists on our platform are qualified and that your conversation is always confidential. Don’t be afraid to take the first step.

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12 frequently asked questions about OCD

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Obsessions are recurrent, persistent and unwanted thoughts, images or impulses that a person finds disturbing and cause anxiety or discomfort.

Is OCD a diagnosis?

OCD is not a psychiatric diagnosis, but it can be part of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Why do people get OCD?

The causes of OCD are complex and are thought to be due to a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

OCD consists mainly of obsessions and compulsions, with obsessions being intrusive and recurrent thoughts while compulsions are repetitive behaviors such as washing hands, counting, checking things. However, you can have obsessions without meeting all the criteria for OCD.

How are obsessions treated?

Conlgnitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is helpful for treating obsessions, because patterns and habits can be identified and changed.

Can OCD be associated with other mental health problems?

OCD can occur in several different psychiatric conditions neuropsychiatric problems in autism. If you have autism or think you have it, it is important to seek help for that too.

Can children have obsessive thoughts?

Yes, OCD can affect children and teenagers and has the same causes as in adults but can be exacerbated by stressful life events.

What can you do as a parent of a child with OCD?

If you have a child with OCD, you can try to educate yourself in order to provide adequate support, but also create a supportive environment where you can express your feelings and not reinforce compulsions. It is also good to contact a child psychologist or doctor and involve the school if necessary.

Can obsessions affect my ability to work?

Yes, it can affect functioning and become very limiting in more severe cases. If you feel that the symptoms are affecting your everyday work, studies or relationships, you should seek professional help.

What should you do if you have thoughts of harming others?

Having thoughts of harming others is common in OCD and if you have it, it is good to seek help and get treatment from a licensed psychologist or doctor.

Are OCD and perfectionism related?

There are similarities between perfectionism and OCD where both can be driven by a fear that things will not turn out the way they should. Please book an initial consultation with one of our psychologists and therapists if you have OCD and perfectionism.

Where can I go if I need help?

Through our site, you can book an initial session with a therapist or psychologist to describe your problems and start planning a treatment. We will help you to make the difficult things easier.

How obsessions can be treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through how OCD can be treated using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

  • Step 1: Assessment interview
    During an initial assessment interview, we will review your history and you may be asked to complete assessment forms.
  • Step 2: Treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
    In a treatment with CBT you will work with thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to your thoughts. The treatment may include the tool of exposure with response prevention where you get support to overcome your symptoms. You can also work on your thoughts through exercises and mindfulness.
  • Step 3: Follow-up and adjustments
    Follow-up sessions evaluate the effect of the treatment and make any necessary adjustments.
  • Step 4: Continued follow-up
    After treatment, you will be given a plan to maintain your progress and ensure long-term effectiveness.

How can I get help with my obsessions?

Do not hesitate to seek professional help. It is the first step to getting help with your thoughts and improving your quality of life. You are not alone and we are here to help you every step of the way. Book an appointment with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists today.

If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact 112 or the nearest emergency psychiatric clinic.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.