Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can have a negative impact on a person’s emotional well-being and ability to function effectively. It can be especially difficult to manage when OCD develops as a result of trauma. There is a link between trauma and OCD. It can be hard to treat when symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also occur. It is important to also address symptoms of PTSD, when a traumatic experience leads to OCD.
What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by both obsessive thoughts or sensations and compulsive actions. Those experiencing OCD have distressing thoughts that cause them to engage in repetitive behaviors to decrease anxiety related to obsessions. Although anyone can experience distressing thoughts at times, those with OCD have persistent thoughts requiring strict behaviors to manage them. If they are unable to perform these behaviors, they become very distressed. The repetitive behaviors are very time consuming, taking up at least an hour of their day. OCD can cause significant impairment in functioning in one or more areas of life.
Although many with OCD recognize that their obsessions are unrealistic, it’s not enough to stop them from engaging in compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts, sensations, images, or ideas that lead to fear, anger, disgust, and other distressing emotions. Fears related to something happening to a loved one, images of a distressing event, or thoughts of harming a child can cause a great deal of anxiety. In fact, the obsessions can become overwhelming.
In order to relieve the overwhelming anxiety, a ritual must be performed. Compulsions are behaviors that a person feels compelled to do in order to alleviate the anxiety created by the obsession. These compulsions can be related to the obsession, or completely unrelated. Compulsions such as repeatedly checking things, constantly washing hands or cleaning, or repetitively counting to a certain number, can significantly interfere with a person’s quality of life.
OCD And Trauma
Trauma refers to any distressing event that overwhelms someone’s capacity to cope effectively. While not everyone that experiences trauma will develop OCD, research shows a link between trauma and OCD, especially childhood trauma. This can include a single event, like being the victim of a violent crime, or more complex trauma, such as repeated sexual abuse. Childhood trauma can lead to obsessive thoughts and compulsions and a diagnosis of OCD.
PTSD And OCD
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and OCD can co-occur at a very high rate. This has caused some to suggest that these disorders are on the same continuum. The obsessive thoughts associated with both can lead to hypervigilance and compulsive behaviors. These behaviors are to help manage the thoughts, flashbacks, and anxiety common in these disorders. For instance, if someone was involved in a house fire, it would be normal for them to want to check their home for possible fire hazards for a period of time afterwards. However, if this behavior continues after several months, becomes compulsive and interferes with their ability to leave the house, or fall asleep, they may have developed PTSD and OCD.
Treatments for PTSD include trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), brainspotting, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). In TF-CBT you learn about the trauma and create a narrative to process the trauma. While doing this, you use techniques to help calm down the central nervous system. EMDR and brainspotting enable you to access stored traumatic memories. Accessing these memories enables you to reprocess them through the use of certain tools and bilateral stimulation. The most common treatment for OCD is exposure and response therapy. In this therapy, you are exposed to the stimulus that causes anxiety without being able to engage in the compulsions. It is important to treat both PTSD and OCD. Treating only one can lead to an increase of symptoms in the other.
If you have experienced a trauma and are having symptoms of both PTSD and OCD, individual counseling can help. Make sure whoever you work with has experience treating both disorders. With proper help, you can learn to manage the symptoms of trauma related OCD and PTSD. Then they will no longer have a negative impact on your emotional well-being.