Dr. Simpson describes the misconceptions associated with obsessive compulsive disorder/OCD.
One is that OCD is not a severe disorder. In fact, OCD is a very severe disorder and it can really interfere with people’s functioning. And, it’s often not as prominent in people’s minds like schizophrenia or bipolar illness because it’s a much more hidden illness.
People can often, there are people with compulsive hoarding that no one knows at work because it’s all going on at home, or there are people with intrusive concerns about contamination that aren’t going out with their friends because of that, but their friends don’t know it. So this is an illness that can be more hidden, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t terribly impairing and distressing to people. So I think one is, OCD is a severe and disabling illness.
The other thing is that people often get confused about, and there’s a lot of jokes about, “Oh you’re being obsessive. Oh, you’re being compulsive.” And I think the,sort of same way that people use the word depression, you know, “I was depressed today,” which is actually quite different than major depressive disorder. Likewise, people joke with me all the time, “Oh obsessive, compulsive.” That also isn’t OCD.
There’s this thing called obsessive compulsive personality disorder. This is the person who likes things very neat, who likes things very orderly, who likes things very perfect, but they are not having intrusive obsessions, and they are not having compulsive behaviors in the same way. It’s sort of a personality style, and that’s really what I think people are joking about.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is this very, discreet, specific set of symptoms, and I think if anyone worked with patients, like I work with patients, people wouldn’t joke about it anymore. It is sort of like if we were around someone who was dying of cancer. We wouldn’t say something like, “Uh, I got so much homework this week, I just died over the weekend.” We would actually not say that word because we were understanding that we are in the situation that’s really quite more serious. And I think, likewise, I think the jokes about obsessive and compulsive sometimes comes out of people not really understanding what OCD really is and how people suffer.
About Dr. Simpson, M.D., Ph.D.:
Helen Blair Simpson, M.D., Ph.D., an expert on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), is an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, New York City, where she directs the Anxiety Disorders Clinic and OCD Research Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. She was a member of the work group that developed the first “Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients With OCD” for the American Psychiatric Association.
Through her research, Dr. Simpson is working to trace the brain circuits believed to play a major role in the development of obsessions and compulsions, and she has developed novel approaches to treatment. Her research has been supported by a NARSAD Young Investigator grant.