OCD: Will my Family History Determine If I Develop OCD?

Am I destined to develop OCD if there is history in my family?

As psychology is a social science, there are many theories which provide hypothesis for why people develop this disorder.

We know there is a strong link between genetics and OCD. That is, if there is a history of OCD in a person’s family, it places that person at a higher risk of developing it. It is important to note although the risk is higher compared to someone with no family history, is not a given the person will develop OCD. One way to look at genes and you may be using an ‘A Conductor and Orchestra analogy’: you are the Conductor and your genes are all the instruments in the Orchestra. Just because they are they, it doesn’t mean they have to take centre stage or if in fact play at all!

Some theorists argue that this a is a learned behaviour, in that the individual develops anxiety, identifies a self-coping mechanism to manage it, thereby creating a self-maintaining cycle of thought (‘I could get sick’), anxiety (‘Oh no! It could get serious!’) and behaviour (‘I’ll just have a bath and wash my clothes every time I get back in to my house, to make sure I avoid contamination’).

Others argue it is a means of exercising psychological and mental control to compensate for events that may have occurred in childhood, where control was limited.

Some neuropsychologists argue that it is a result of faulty functioning along neural pathways in the frontal lobe, that area of the brain that governs executive functioning which includes the ability to control impulses, shift attention- skills that appear to be impaired in a person diagnosed with OCD.

What to Do if You Think You Have OCD?

The first step would be to consult with a GP to determine if your concerns have any weight. The GP would ask questions around your patterns of thoughts and behaviours, the degree these issues affect your ability to function and if there are further concerns refer you to a psychologist for further assessment and/or treatment.

There are different modes of treatment for OCD within the field of mental health. Among the evidence based psychological treatments is a branch of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). CBT is focussed on the connection between thought and behaviour and how sometimes these connections can be based on invalid and unhelpful perceptions of beliefs. As CBT focuses on thought and behaviour, the ERP approach targets both: the individual is exposed to the stimuli that causes anxiety (for someone with a health based OCD this might mean an object or environment that they fear would expose them to contamination). Once exposed, the individual is prevented from making their habituated response (which might be a self-cleaning ritual).

Doing this is meant to target a range of areas hypothesized to cause OCD in the first place: It forces the individual to test the hypothesis that exposure does not lead to the feared outcome. It also causes them to break the association not only between the triggering environment or object and their concerns but also between their obsessions (staying healthy) and compulsion (cleaning themselves).

There are other evidence-based approaches available as well, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
An individual diagnosed with OCD could also seek medical treatment from a GP or Psychiatrist.

Author: Ishma Alvi – Psychologist

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