If you saw the movie The Aviator, you saw a dramatic portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Howard Hughes, for all his wealth, could not overcome its crippling impact. Sadly, in his day, OCD was not well understood and there was no effective treatment.
An obsession is an unwanted, repetitive thought that provokes intense anxiety. A compulsion is a ritualistic behavior such as excessive hand wishing that temporarily reduces anxiety but only serves to strengthen the negative habit.
Fortunately, we now have better understanding of OCD. It’s primarily a neurological disorder that can be effectively treated with a combination of medical and psychological interventions.
Several antidepressant medications can often reduce OCD symptoms. A psychiatrist would be the best person to see for these medications.
Psychological treatment is also helpful, but not the usual “talk therapy.” The preferred treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, the therapist actively coaches the patient to confront his fears and resist his compulsive rituals.
People with OCD are often too embarrassed to seek help. This is a tragedy, because treatment can make such a difference in a person’s life.