Do You Have Trauma Related OCD?
Baylor College of Medicine reports that 1 in 4 people PTSD also experience OCD. A study published by the National Institutes of Health reports that nearly 30% of those with PTSD develop OCD within a year. More study is needed to determine the cause of this co-occurrence called "trauma related OCD," but there are some theories that deserve consideration. It is interesting that the causes and symptoms of OCD & PTSD are so similar.
What Is OCD?
Before we talk about trauma related OCD, we should start with regular OCD. What is OCD? Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as, “a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.” A shorter definition of OCD is, “a disorder of unwanted thoughts that trigger repetitive behaviors.” Some common OCD behaviors are:
Repetitive checking of locks
Recurring counting to a certain number
Compulsion to organize or clean
Pulling or playing with hair, picking at skin, nail biting
With OCD, these behaviors are uncontrollable and obsessive. They can take hours a day to perform, sometimes even the entire day. Performing these rituals, however, bring a sense of relief and calm. Not doing the ritual, on the other hand, creates anxiety and distress.
These compulsions and rituals produce a variety of symptoms, depending on the person’s obsession. Some of the more common symptoms of OCD behaviors are:
Mysophobia, an extreme fear of germs, dirt, or contamination
Intrusive thoughts of a sexual or violent nature
Driving need for things to be neat or in order
Hypochondriasis, or health-anxiety, unrealistic worries over having a serious health issue
Hoarding compulsion/aversion to throwing things away
What Is PTSD?
The American Psychiatrist Association defines Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as “a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, series of events or set of circumstances.” Some of the typical causes of PTSD are things like abuse (physical, mental, verbal, or sexual), natural disasters, combat or living in a war zone, car/train/plane crashes, major medical illnesses, or horrific accidents.
It is typical with PTSD for a person to have strong anxiety and flashbacks of their trauma as well as nightmares themed around it. These symptoms can come soon after the trauma or years later. People with PTSD will go to extreme measures to avoid people, places, or things that remind them of their trauma. This explains why often veterans refuse to speak about their time in the military and get angry when pressed to talk about it. Often, people with PTSD experience intrusive thoughts of their trauma that get in the way or normal daily functioning.
Some of the common symptoms of PTSD are:
Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
Lessened interest in activities that were once enjoyed
Hard to concentrate
Stuck in negative thoughts/negative thinking patterns
Trauma Related OCD: Similarities in OCD and PTSD
In both OCD and PTSD there are recurring, intrusive thoughts. PTSD sufferers have intrusive thoughts about their trauma and OCD sufferers have intrusive thoughts about whatever it is that triggers their compulsions and rituals. The difference is in how they respond to their intrusive thoughts. People with PTSD try to get rid of their thoughts by avoiding while people with OCD perform rituals to ease the anxiety their thoughts create.
People suffering from PTSD sometimes develop OCD as a coping mechanism. When their efforts to suppress the traumatic thoughts doesn’t work, they might try various OCD-type rituals to lessen their anxiety. This is trauma related OCD. And some people might never develop PTSD, but rather they unconsciously develop OCD as their coping mechanism.
Again, more studies are needed to explain the link between OCD and PTSD, but they are related and often occur together. What we do know is that OCD therapy where a person is gradually exposed to anxiety-producing situations, images, or thoughts is effective. Over time with this therapy, clients learn that they can handle the situation they thought they couldn’t handle, and even if their fears come to pass, they can tolerate it.
If you think you might be struggling with trauma related OCD, I urge you to read more about trauma therapy and reach out to us at Christian Counseling Associates for a free consultation. There is help. There is hope.
Sydney Spradlin is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Christian Counseling Associates She works with individuals, couples, teenagers, and families. Sydney is taking new clients.