Mental Health

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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What is it like to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Liz “I’m afraid of catching something from other people. I spend hours bleaching all the surfaces in my house to stop the germs, and wash my hands many times each day. I try not to go out of the house if possible. When my husband and children come back home, I ask them in great detail where they have been, in case they have visited somewhere dangerous, like a hospital. I also make them take off all their clothes, and wash themselves thoroughly. Part of me realizes these fears are stupid. My family are sick of it, but it has gone on for so long now I can’t stop”.

John “My whole day is spent checking that nothing will go wrong. It takes me an hour to get out of the house in the morning, because I am never sure that I’ve turned off all the electrical appliances like the cooker, and locked all the windows. Then I check to see that the gas fire is off five times, but if it doesn’t feel right I have to do the whole thing again. In the end, I ask my partner to check it all for me again anyway. At work I am always behind as I go through everything several times in case I have made a mistake. If I don’t check I feel so worried I can’t bear it. Its ridiculous I know, but I think if something awful did happen, I’d be to blame”.

Dawn “I fear I will harm my baby daughter. I know I don’t want to, but bad thoughts keep coming into my head. I can picture myself losing control and stabbing her with a knife. The only way I can get rid of these ideas is to say a prayer, and then have a good thought such as “I know I love her very much”. I usually feel a bit better after that, until the next time those awful pictures come into my head. I have hidden away all sharp objects and knives in my house. I think to myself “you must be a horrible mother to think like this. I must be going mad”.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has three main parts:


the thoughts that make you anxious (obsessions).


the anxiety you feel.


the things you do to reduce your anxiety (compulsions).

What you think (obsessions)

  • Thoughts – single words, short phrases or rhymes that are unpleasant, shocking or blasphemous. You try not to think about them, but they won’t go away. You worry that you might be contaminated (by germs, dirt, HIV or cancer), or that someone might be harmed because you have been careless.
  • Pictures in your mind – showing your family dead, or seeing yourself doing something violent or sexual which is completely out of character – stabbing or abusing someone, or being unfaithful. We know that people with obsessions do not become violent, or act on these thoughts.
  • Doubts – you wonder for hours whether you might have caused an accident or misfortune to someone. You may worry that you have knocked someone over in your car, or that you have left your doors and windows unlocked.
  • Ruminations – you endlessly argue with yourself about whether to do one thing or another so you can’t make the simplest decision.
  • Perfectionism – you are bothered, in a way that other people are not, if things are not in the exactly the right order, not balanced or not in the right place. For example, if books are not lined up precisely on a bookshelf.

The anxiety you feel (emotions)

  • You feel tense, anxious, fearful, guilty, disgusted or depressed.
  • You feel better if you carry out your compulsive behaviour, or ritual – but it doesn’t last long.

What you do (compulsions)

  • Correcting obsessional thoughts – you think alternative ‘neutralizing’ thoughts like counting, praying or saying a special word over and over again. It feels as though this prevents bad things from happening. It can also be a way of getting rid of any unpleasant thoughts or pictures that are bothering you.
  • Rituals – you wash your hands frequently, do things really slowly and carefully, perhaps arrange objects or activities in a particular way. This can take up so much time that it takes ages to go anywhere, or do anything useful.
  • Checking – your body for contamination, that appliances are switched off, that the house is locked or that your journey route is safe.
  • Avoidance – of anything that is a reminder of worrying thoughts. You avoid touching particular objects, going to certain places, taking risks or accepting responsibility. For example, you may avoid the kitchen because you know you will find sharp knives there.
  • Hoarding – of useless and worn out possessions. You just can’t throw anything away.
  • Reassurance – you repeatedly ask others to tell you that everything is alright.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and TCM treatment

Classical Eastern medicine considers the affliction of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) an energy dysfunction of the kidneys and how the Spirits or that which nourishes the Spirits is hindered. As mentioned in the Ling Shu: “When there is apprehension and anxiety, worry and preoccupation attack the Spirits. When the Spirits are attacked, under the effect of fear and fright, there is a flowing out, there is a spilling over that cannot be stopped.” The Kidney is considered the root of all fear based afflictions as it stores the Essence or Jing (life force), the Essence generates Qi and Qi generates Spirit. When this cycle is interrupted the Kidney allows Fear to rise which can result in creating deep emotional distress which includes symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Strengthening the kidneys could be a first approach working such points as: KI3 located between the inner ankle bone and the Achilles tendon; KI6 will tonify Kidney Yin which in the case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is also out of balance. This point is located on the outer ridge of the middle foot; KI7 tonifies Kidney Yang the other side of Yin that needs to be re-aligned, located just above the outer ankle. Although these points are all within a similar radius many other acupuncture points throughout the body will calm Shen (mind-spirit), ease depression associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as well as quiet the mind so as to be able to concentrate on a direct, linear focus rather than a firestorm of constant repetitiveness.

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