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Types of OCD | Guide to understanding OCD types

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Written by Parth Sharma

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder that occurs when a person gets captured in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts that trigger intensely distressing feelings. At the same time, Compulsions are behaviors done to get rid of obsessions and decrease distress. This provides short-term relief but doesn't make the obsession disappear.

Obsessions and compulsions can become a cycle that's difficult to stop. The time you spend on compulsions might begin to take up so much of your day that you find it hard to get anything else done. This can affect your school, work, or personal life, leading to even more distress.

Types of OCD and its Symptoms

Although all forms of OCD have symptoms in common, how they present themselves in daily life differs immensely from person to person. The content of a person's obsessions isn't eventually the critical part. Still, it's what feels essential at the moment to further our understanding. We also need to understand OCD causes, OCD triggers, OCD stages, and more. But, subtypes for now:

The subtype is just the particular way their OCD affects the person. What does the mind concentrate on, and what thoughts result from this preoccupation? These subtypes are moderately stable over time, though new symptoms can appear and old ones might fade. Clinicians call a condition like OCD heterogeneous because it varies so much from one person to another. 

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What are some common OCD subtypes?

However, a few common "clusters" of symptoms have been identified.

Harm obsessions with checking compulsions:

The obsession with preventing potential harm leads to a compulsion of checking. Checking is often carried out multiple times, sometimes hundreds of times and might last for an hour or even longer, causing a substantial effect on the person's life resulting in being late for school, work, social occasions, and other appointments. 

Contamination Obsessions:

Fear of things that might be dirty or a compulsion to clean. People with OCD who experience fears about contamination worry that they've become contaminated with germs or disease by physically touching something they believe to be dirty. People who face mental contamination obsessions, on the other hand, worry that they've had some sort of contact – speaking to a specific individual or having a particular word come into their minds. Obsessive thoughts example under this– with something they consider to be internally dirty, harmful, or wrong. They may fear that whatever bad quality they've projected onto the "dirty" person or thing may somehow transfer over onto themselves.

Symmetry and order obsessions:

The need to have everything lined up symmetrically just 'right' is the compulsion caused due to the obsessive fear to ensure everything feels 'just right to prevent discomfort or sometimes to prevent harm from occurring. Examples include Neatness, Pictures, Clothes, Books, CDs, etc. Those affected will spend a lot of time getting the symmetry just right. They may become mentally and physically drained if the compulsions take a considerable amount of time. The person with this subtype may also avoid social contact at home to prevent symmetry and order from being disrupted, negatively impacting social interaction and relationships.


Rumination is often used to describe all obsessive intrusive thoughts. In OCD, rumination is a train of prolonged thinking about a question or theme that is undirected and unproductive. They dwell on religious, philosophical, or metaphysical topics, such as the universe's origins, life after death, the nature of morality, etc. Unlike obsessive thoughts, ruminations are not offensive and are gratified rather than resisted. With most ruminations, it inevitably never leads to a solution or satisfactory conclusion. The person appears to be intensely preoccupied, very thoughtful, and disconnected.

Intrusive thoughts:

These occur when a person generally suffers from obsessive thoughts that are repetitive, upsetting, and often horrific and vile; for example, thoughts of causing violent or sexual harm to loved ones that don't involve specific immediate compulsions are called Intrusive Thoughts. It is generally assumed that the thoughts are unpleasant and repetitive (constant). It is generally accepted that when talking about OCD' Intrusive Thoughts', the types listed below can cover unquestionably any subject.

Still, the more common areas of OCD-related concerns cover the following sub-categories: Relationship Intrusive Thoughts, Sexual Intrusive Thoughts, Religious Intrusive Thoughts, and Violent Intrusive Thoughts. Research suggests that people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are the least likely to act on the thoughts, partly because they find them so disgusting and go to great lengths to avoid them and prevent them from happening. However, it must be stressed that they are just thoughts, and they are not willingly produced. Neither are they fantasies or impulses which will be acted upon. 

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OCD Diagnosis and Treatment

Regardless of the subtype, the process of treating OCD is the same. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the standard treatment for OCD. This form of therapy mainly targets the source of a person's obsessions by directly exposing them to them. In some cases, people find that ERP helps their anxiety subside to the point where they no longer regularly encounter intense fears related to their thoughts. ERP therapy is an active form of treatment. It requires attention from the patient by participating in exposures, a readiness to feel discomfort, and transparency with their therapist about their obsessions and compulsions.

In the safe therapy space, you can learn how to deal with the discomfort you encounter without acting out compulsions. You'll also practice these skills at home or in other settings outside of therapy. Suppose you have severe OCD symptoms that don't seem to respond to therapy alone. In that case, your mental healthcare provider may suggest talking to a psychiatrist about medication. You might take a medication just for a short time while you learn how to cope with symptoms in therapy. Drugs that can benefit OCD symptoms include antidepressants such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or antipsychotics.

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