The surprising truth about obsessive-compulsive thinking

People who check whether their hands are clean or imagine their house might be on fire are not alone. New research from Concordia University and 15 other universities worldwide shows that 94 per cent of people experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images and/or impulses.

The international study, which was co-authored by Concordia psychology professor Adam Radomsky and published in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, examined people on six continents.

Radomsky and his colleagues found that the thoughts, images and impulses symptomatic of (OCD) are widespread.

"This study shows that it's not the unwanted, intrusive thoughts that are the problem—it's what you make of those thoughts," Radomsky says. "And that's at the heart of our cognitive and behavioural interventions for helping people overcome OCD."

This means therapists can focus on applying effective treatments that will work cross-culturally.

As Radomsky points out, "Confirming that these thoughts are extremely common helps us reassure patients who may think that they are very different from everybody else."

"For instance, most people who have an intrusive thought about jumping off a balcony or a metro platform would tell themselves that it's a strange or silly thing to think, whereas a person with OCD may worry that the thought means they're suicidal. OCD patients experience these thoughts more often and are more upset by them, but the thoughts themselves seem to be indistinguishable from those occurring in the general population."

For researchers developing effective evidence-based mental health treatments, recognizing how widespread these intrusive thoughts are can also offer encouragement to use cognitive and behavioural therapies cross-culturally.

"We're more similar than we are different," says Radomsky. "People with OCD and related problems are very much like everyone else."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

When the ladybug has to count her spots

Dec 01, 2011

About two percent of all children suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which consists of obsessive thoughts and acts. Obsessive thoughts are intrusive thoughts such as fear or contamination, injury ...

The difference between obsession and delusion

Sep 04, 2013

Because animals can't talk, researchers need to study their behavior patterns to make sense of their activities. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University are using these zoological methods to study people with ...

Online treatment for OCD sufferers

Dec 02, 2013

Western Australian researchers have developed the first online treatment program for young people with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Recommended for you

Suicide risk falls substantially after talk therapy

1 hour ago

Repeat suicide attempts and deaths by suicide were roughly 25 percent lower among a group of Danish people who underwent voluntary short-term psychosocial counseling after a suicide attempt, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School ...

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Apr 09, 2014
I thought that it was part of the description of the condition that otherwise normal thinking processes were obsessively ruminated on and compulsively responded to...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.