Myth Busting Common Misconceptions About OCD
Do you find your life interrupted by repetitive behaviors? Do you find yourself incredibly anxious unless you can go through very specific rituals? You may be one of the 2.2 million adults suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
But wait a minute… what if your home isn’t very neat and tidy? What if you just need to relax and stop worrying? If those are your thoughts, you’re already thinking about OCD from the standpoint of myths and misconceptions.
Let’s take a look at what OCD really is so that you can get a better idea of what treatment may be necessary for you or your loved one.
Common Myths About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
The facts about OCD have gotten muddled by popular culture and misinformation. People love to say that they’re “acting OCD” without any real knowledge of what the disorder is or what causes OCD.
People have a lot of harmful and scary ideas of OCD which can lead to avoiding treatment and staying in denial. Here are some of the most common myths and why they aren’t true.
You Can “Act a Little OCD”
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a real mental health condition. It is not a personality trait that you can take on or off. And it is not an occasional behavior.
The disorder is related to compulsions and obsessions which cannot simply be turned off.
While most people will experience a compulsion to do things every once in a while, they will not have the obsession to do it. The same is not true of people with OCD. There is such a stark difference between people with and without OCD, that the images of their brain scans show up differently.
People With OCD Should Just Relax
People with OCD have extreme anxiety called “obsessions” which make life incredibly difficult. There’s no amount of being told to “relax” that will change this fact for them. They use their compulsive rituals to escape anxiety – without their rituals, they do not feel that they can relax.
People With OCD Are Automatically Neat and Clean
While some people’s OCD rituals involve cleaning, washing, and tidying, this is not the only way that OCD manifests. Some other compulsions are checking, counting, and repeating tasks. These don’t necessarily have to do with cleanliness.
There’s Only One Kind of OCD
There are some disorders that fall onto the Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum. These disorders are grouped together because they all involve obsession and compulsion. Hoarding Disorder, Body Dysmorphia Disorder, Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (such as skin or hair picking), and Olfactory Reference Syndrome are all related and grouped together in the DSM-5.
An OCD Diagnosis Means Life As You Knew It Is Over
With the right treatment and symptom management, people with OCD are able to lead full and productive lives just like anyone else. Treatment usually involves both medication and behavioral therapy. There’s also exposure therapy, family therapy, brain stimulation treatments, and support groups.
With these measures and support systems, there’s no reason why someone with OCD can’t continue all the things that make life worth living.
Misconceptions About Treatment
Even once you understand the facts about OCD better and no longer believe the myths, it can still feel daunting to enter treatment. This is because there are also misconceptions about the treatment process!
You want to be sure that you’re doing something good for yourself while getting treatment. That you also agree with the philosophy behind it, and what you can reasonably expect it to do for you. Let’s look at some OCD myths about treatment.
Treatment Is a Fight Against Your Own Brain
Treatment is much more about being open to accepting the messages that your brain sends to you. You won’t fight the feelings that you feel but learn to recognize them and their triggers so that you can keep things under control. The anxiety signals your brain has been giving you have been there to keep you safe; they might just give you signals too often and too strongly.
You can learn which signals to take seriously and how to experience your feelings and move past them when they aren’t helpful.
Therapy Will Eliminate or Cure Your OCD
You may never entirely eliminate your compulsions or triggers. And that’s okay.
Instead, you will learn how to respond when those feelings do come up in a healthy way. You will learn to experience uncomfortable thoughts without them ruining your whole day or sending you into a spiral of rituals.
With enough practice, your OCD symptoms will become much more manageable and in some cases unrecognizable. They’ll look like any other day-to-day uncomfortable feelings you may experience.
It’s All About Uncomfortable Exposure Exercises
You will probably go through some exposure treatments where you face some of the things that cause your anxiety head-on. But it will always be safe and the goal is to teach your mind that there is nothing to fear about these scenarios. It takes work, but avoiding your compulsions during exposure will help you while avoiding the discomfort won’t.
Acceptance Means Agreement
A lot of treatment is centered around accepting your intrusive thoughts. Some people think that this means you have to agree with them or agree that they’re useful. This is not the case.
The goal is not to forbid thoughts you disagree with or think are unhelpful. Instead, it’s to recognize where they’re coming from and then to deem them irrelevant. Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts, but people without OCD are able to move on from them without acting.
Treatment Will Teach You To Ignore Dangers
You will learn to better determine what is a real threat and what is momentary discomfort that poses no serious threat. Uncertainty is not always unsafe. Risk is not always unsafe. Even our triggers are not always unsafe.
Treatment can help you recognize most of your triggers as unthreatening scenarios. And it will help you recognize your compulsions as unhelpful reactions.
Treatment Is About Distraction
Quite the contrary! If you distract yourself during treatment, you won’t actually face the problems of your disorder.
The tools you will receive will not be to distract yourself from your intrusive thoughts and triggers but to face them head-on. When you see triggers for what they are instead of the worst version your brain can come up with, you will see that though they may be uncomfortable, they are not usually unsafe.
Therapy Will Make You Feel Better
Of course, we hope that therapy will make you feel better. But this isn’t all about feelings.
Therapy will make you live better. You will function more normally and have a fuller and more productive life. Of course, when you start to experience the benefits of that new kind of life, you are likely to feel better and happier.
But it is not the therapy that makes you feel better, it is your own life that you’ll finally get to live.
Disorders Frequently Confused as OCD
Unfortunately, there are so many overlaps in symptoms of mental disorders that sometimes misdiagnoses happen. Or you could suspect one thing and have your doctor tell you that it’s actually something else. If the above description of OCD felt familiar but not quite right, you may want to talk to your psychiatrist about one of these other disorders.
Tic disorders can be confused with OCD because they both often involve repeated movements. But while people with OCD use their repetitive behaviors in response to anxious stimulation, tic disorders and Tourettes are entirely involuntary and help the experiencer feel just right at any given moment. It’s important to recognize the difference because they respond differently to medication and treatment.
No amount of exposure to “triggers” will change a person with a tic disorder’s desire to tic.
Impulse Control Disorders
Both Impulse Control Disorders and OCD include a strong desire to repeat behavior and can also present attention issues. However, people with Impulse Control Disorders receive something like a rush from their behavior, which results in increases in pleasurable emotions like arousal and excitement. People with OCD avoid negative feelings like anxiety with their behaviors and don’t tend to get joy out of them.
Some people’s repeated behavior in OCD is making excessive lists or striving for unhealthy perfectionism. People with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder or OCPD experience similar symptoms, but while people with OCD see their symptoms as something getting in the way of their life, people with OCPD are usually in denial. They see this as an inherent part of their personality that isn’t unhealthy.
Also, not everyone with OCD experiences perfectionism while everyone with OCPD does. It often affects their ability to complete tasks.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Some of the ways that autism spectrum disorders manifest could be considered “obsessive” interests and rigid, repeated behaviors and schedules. But people with autism aren’t engaging in behaviors to prevent anxious thoughts or feelings.
Instead, they do it because they crave a certain kind of rigidity and have strong expectations about routines. Also, people on the autism spectrum may experience social difficulties and misconceptions while people with OCD do not.
Psychotic Disorders and Schizophrenia
People with OCD may experience obsessions or anxieties related to a strongly religious or sexual theme. These thoughts and obsessions appear strange to the outside eye. They may even resemble the delusions of people with psychotic disorders or schizophrenia.
However, it’s important to understand that people with delusions are not grounded in reality and believe their delusions to be 100% real and true. Most people with OCD know that their obsessions don’t actually make logical sense and are able to separate them from the truth, even if they cannot stop their reactions. They’re also able to stay in strong touch with reality in all other areas of their lives.
How To Get OCD Treatment Coverage
Now that you have a better idea of what OCD and its treatment look like, you’re probably ready to get started and take your life back. Whether you have a diagnosis and are ready to begin serious treatment for it, or this article sparked curiosity and you’d like to speak to a psychiatrist about care, you’ll need to know how to find financial coverage for your treatment.
Since the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, insurance providers have been required to cover mental health treatment in the same way that they would physical health. This means your insurance will treat copays, yearly visits, deductibles, etc. equally. For more information about what your insurance will cover, you should speak directly to your insurance provider.
Both Medicaid and Medicare offer some form of coverage for mental health treatment either equal to physical benefits or (in the case of youth) full coverage for therapy, medication, and case management.
If you are seeking treatment from a provider outside of your insurance, you may be able to use a Health Savings Account to fund the treatment or through a plan in your insurance for “out of network providers”.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Myths Busted and Treatment on the Way
Do you have a better idea of what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is and how it presents itself? If you recognize yourself or a loved one with these symptoms, you may want to seek help. There’s no shame in beginning treatment and you won’t lose any of the protection or safety that your OCD behaviors may be making you feel.
Take a look at how our treatment works for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and then call us today about a consultation.
- American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (n.d.). The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Programs-and-Initiatives/Other-Insurance-Protections/mhpaea_factsheet
- Facts & Statistics: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
- Schreiber, L., Odlaug, B. L., & Grant, J. E. (2011). Impulse control disorders: updated review of clinical characteristics and pharmacological management. Frontiers in psychiatry, 2, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2011.00001