Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be an isolating and confusing experience, but you don't have to go through it alone. Talking to a therapist about OCD and intrusive thoughts isn't always easy, but it's a crucial first step in taking control of your mental health journey.
Knowing what to expect beforehand can help ease the process and make sure that you get the support you need. Read on to learn more about OCD and intrusive thoughts and get tips on how best to communicate your experience and needs to a mental health professional.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that causes “obsessions” and/or “compulsions.” Obsessions are enduring thoughts, urges, and mental images that can cause mental and emotional distress. Compulsions are enduring, repetitive urges that manifest as a result of obsessive thoughts.
Obsessions and compulsions can interfere with daily activities and can cause further mental distress. Here is a list of obsession and compulsion symptoms:
Symptoms of obsession
- Disturbing or taboo intrusive thoughts or mental images
- The need to keep items symmetrical or perfectly in order
- Fear or contamination or germs
- Aggressive or violent thoughts
- Persistent doubt and anxiety
Symptoms of compulsion
- Excessive cleaning/tidying
- Compulsive counting
- Repeatedly checking that things are done (e.g., checking that the door is locked)
- Living by a strict routine
- Consistently demanding reassurance
What are intrusive thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and unpleasant thoughts and mental images that can sometimes be violent, sexual, taboo, or driven by anxiety.
These intrusive thoughts may lead to extreme distress and can make it difficult for those experiencing them to complete important tasks or maintain their relationships.
There are several different forms of intrusive thoughts. Common intrusive thoughts include:
- Violent or illegal acts, aggression, or harm to others
- Germs, infections, or other forms of contamination
- Sexual acts or situations
- Anxiety or doubt about doing a task correctly (e.g. forgetting to turn off the stove)
- Unexpected reminders of an upsetting or traumatic event
It’s important to note that having intrusive thoughts from time to time is normal and should not be stigmatized. In fact, about 94% of people worldwide reported experiencing at least one intrusive thought in the past three months of being surveyed. Intrusive thoughts become a concern when they so frequent that they are causing mental, physical and emotional impairment.
Starting the conversation
Opening up to someone about your experience with OCD and intrusive thoughts can feel like a daunting task. For those living with OCD and experiencing intrusive thoughts, it can feel like your symptoms are too scary to disclose to someone else. You might think, “What if they think I’m dangerous?,” or “What if my thoughts are too messed up and they try to put me in a mental health facility?”
Just like when you have an illness like strep throat, you need the proper treatment to manage your symptoms. While it may feel scary, opening up about your experience with OCD and intrusive thoughts is the first step to getting better.
Talk therapy is a private, safe space for you to discuss your experience without fear of being stigmatized for things out of your control.
Talk therapy can help you:
- Regulate your emotions by putting your feelings into words
- Reframe situations so you can see the bigger picture
- Speak your thoughts out loud and put them in perspective
If you are still feeling nervous about opening up to a therapist or another mental health professional, remember:
- Your therapist is trained to help
- Your therapist needs to know the full story to best support you
- Your therapist has likely heard this before
- Your therapist can help you see your situation from a new perspective
Finding the right person to discuss your symptoms with can make a major difference in how quickly you open up and start feeling better.
Finding a therapist that is the right fit
Remember: you are not alone. Intrusive thoughts and OCD can make you feel isolated and misunderstood, but it’s important to remind yourself that you are not the only person who is living with OCD and intrusive thoughts, and there is help out there for you.
With the right therapist, you can start seeing things from a different perspective. There are therapists who specialize in the care of those living with OCD and other mental health conditions.
If you’re ready to seek therapy, SonderMind can connect you with a licensed therapist that can help you manage symptoms of OCD and process and reframe intrusive thoughts.