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8th June 2017  /  Stephen Flett


You will often hear celebrities, contributors and applicants on Reality TV shows describe themselves, often dramatically and proudly, as OCD. They are usually referring to their hygiene habits, cleaning preferences, keeping things in order etc. It happened this week on the launch show of C5's Big Brother (I worked on the C4 version for 7 years).  It's time to put the record straight. With very few exceptions, they do not have OCD.

OCD is obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD is a debilitating and distressing condition. It includes persistent and intrusive thoughts (called ruminations or obsessions) and irrestible, ritualistic behaviours (compulsions) fuelled by severe doubt and anxiety. During my training as a clinical psychologist, I spent a couple of weeks in a specialist in-patient unit in North London, observing and helping with the treatment of a patient with OCD. She was afraid of contracting toxoplasmosis from door handles, taps, cutlery etc, which might have been infected. She washed her hands 150 times per day on average until her skin was red raw. Not only is OCD distressing for the sufferer, it also disrupts and dominates their relationships with family, friends and work colleagues (if they are able to work). According to OCD-UK, "World Health Organisation (WHO) once ranked OCD in the top ten of the most disabling illnesses of any kind, in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life." It is very unlikely that people with genuine OCD would apply or appear in reality TV, unless it were more of a therapeutic, documentary type programme.

In my efforts to explain this issue to producers and contributors during my 17 years as a TV psychologist, I have coined the acronyms OCB and OCP as amore accurate and acceptable alternatives to OCD for those who are not diagnosed as OCD and not distressed or disadvantaged by their "condition". OCB stands for obsessive-compulsive behaviour - checking, organising, cleaning etc. OCP stands for obsessive-compulsive personality. OCB refers to isolated or specific habits or rituals that may be exaggerated or noticeable to others. OCP refers to a more pervasive pattern of thinking and behaviour over time and across situations. However, in both these cases, people value and prefer their way of doing things. They are not plagued by anxiety, doubt, struggle, resistance and distress as is the case with OCD.  If you were to offer a magic pill to reduce or remove their "symptoms", to those with OCB or OCP, they would refuse. Those with genuine OCD would usually jump at the chance to reduce or eliminate their intrusive and distressing thoughts and rituals.