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Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Our ‘Understanding…’ series is a collection of psychoeducation guides for common mental health conditions. Friendly and explanatory, they are comprehensive sources of information for your clients. Concepts are explained in an easily digestible way, with plenty of case examples and accessible diagrams. Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is designed to help clients suffering from OCD understand more about their condition.

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A psychoeducational guide. Typically containing elements of skills development.


Languages this resource is available in

  • English (GB)
  • English (US)
  • Greek
  • Italian
  • Polish
  • Spanish (International)

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

Obsessions are unwanted thoughts and images that pop into your mind which you find unacceptable or make you feel anxious. Compulsions are things that you do in response to your obsessions, often to stop harm from occurring, or just to make you feel better. People who experience obsessions and compulsions to a level that interferes significantly with their life are said to have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and it is thought that between 1 and 2 people out of every 100 experience OCD every year. Fortunately, there are some effective psychological treatments for OCD. 

The Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) guide is designed to help clients with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to understand more about their condition. As well as a clear description of symptoms and treatments, the guide explores key maintenance factors for OCD including:

Therapist Guidance

Our ‘Understanding…’ series is designed to support your clients:
  • Scaffold knowledge. The guides are perfect during early stages of therapy to help your clients understand how their symptoms fit together and make sense.
  • Reassure and encourage optimism. Many clients find it hugely reassuring to know there is a name for what they are experiencing, and that there are evidence-based psychological models and treatments specifically designed to help.
  • De-mystify the therapy process. To increase your client’s knowledge of the therapy process and the ingredients that it is likely to involve. If you can help your clients to understand why an intervention is important (think exposure!) it can help encourage them to engage.
  • Signposting. If you’re just seeing a client briefly for assessment, or you have a curious client who wants to know more, these resources can be a helpful part of guiding them to the right service.
  • Waiting time not wasted time. When you’ve assessed someone but their treatment can’t begin right away, psychoeducation can help them learn about how therapy can help while they’re waiting.
Each guide includes:
  • Case examples to help your clients relate to the condition, and to normalize their experiences.
  • Jargon-free descriptions of symptoms, and descriptions of how they might affect your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • A symptom questionnaire for screening assessment.
  • An accessible cognitive-behavioral account of what keeps the problem going, or what stops it from getting better.
  • A description of evidence-based treatments for that condition, including an overview of the ‘ingredients’ of a good cognitive behavioral approach.

References And Further Reading

  • Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 617-627.
  • Purdon, C., & Clark, D. A. (1993). Obsessive intrusive thoughts in nonclinical subjects. Part I. Content and relation with depressive, anxious and obsessional symptoms. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 31(8), 713-720.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Working Group (1997). Cognitive assessment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35(7), 667–681.
  • Cougle, J. R., Lee, H. J., & Salkovskis, P. M. (2007). Are responsibility beliefs inflated in non-checking OCD patients? Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21(1), 153-159.
  • Lochner, C., duToit, P. L., Zungu-Dirwayi, N., Marais, A., vanKradenburg, J., Seedat, S., Niehaus D. J. H., Stein, D. J. (2002). Childhood trauma in obsessive-compulsive disorder, trichotillomania, and controls. Depression and Anxiety, 15, 66–68.
  • Fontenelle, L. F., Cocchi, L., Harrison, B. J., Shavitt, R. G., do Rosário, M. C., Ferrão, Y. A., … & de Jesus Mari, J. (2012). Towards a post-traumatic subtype of obsessive–compulsive disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26(2), 377-383.
  • Mattheisen, M., Samuels, J. F., Wang, Y., Greenberg, B. D., Fyer, A. J., McCracken, J. T., … & Riddle, M. A. (2015). Genome-wide association study in obsessive-compulsive disorder: results from the OCGAS. Molecular Psychiatry, 20(3), 337.
  • Salkovskis, P. M., Forrester, E., & Richards, C. (1998). Cognitive–behavioural approach to understanding obsessional thinking. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 173(S35), 53-63.
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2005). Obsessive compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder: treatment. Retrieved from:
  • Darnley, S., Forrester, E., Heyman, I., Stobie, B., Salkovskis, P, Veale, D. (2019). CBT Checklist for OCD. Retrieved from: