OCD or an Anxiety Disorder? Getting the Diagnosis Right

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) manifests in all kinds of ways—from checking and counting to ruminating and handwashing. And while OCD is often thought of as an anxiety disorder, diagnostically speaking, it is something distinct. Understanding all this can be tricky, to be sure. But it’s also critical when it comes to helping someone struggling with these conditions.

So how can clinicians, educators, and loved ones learn to recognize the difference between naturally occurring anxiety, potentially debilitating anxiety disorders, and OCD? What sets OCD apart from these conditions? And what does effective treatment look like and where can you find it?

Audience Questions

Jesse M. Crosby, PhD, shares what you should know about OCD and common anxiety disorders, explores the keys to their accurate diagnosis, and answers audience questions about treatment approaches.

  • Does everyone deal with anxiety to some degree?
  • Are there particular thresholds clinicians should watch for when considering a clinical diagnosis involving anxiety?
  • What are some of the more common anxiety disorders?
  • What do we know about the prevalence of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders?
  • What do we know about the causes of anxiety disorders?
  • What exactly is OCD?
  • When treating OCD, is the goal to address the content of a specific subtype or the more general OCD cycle?
  • How is the term OCD misused and what is the distinction between personality quirks and this clinical disorder?
  • Can you share a bit about some of the disorders related to OCD, such as hoarding disorder, trichotillomania, body dysmorphic disorder, and skin picking?
  • What should we know about pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS)?
  • What are the treatment options for anxiety disorders and OCD?
  • Can an individual meet the criteria for both an anxiety disorder and OCD or does one cancel out the other?
  • Are there assessment tools and measures to aid in differentiating the diagnosis of anxiety and OCD?
  • How do genes factor into somebody being vulnerable to experiencing OCD? Is there a genetic link?
  • How can one differentiate between OCD intrusive thoughts and psychosis intrusive thoughts?
  • What is suicidal OCD and how do you distinguish that from someone with suicidal ideation?
  • What are tic disorders and are they related to OCD?
  • Are misdiagnoses common when it comes to anxiety disorders?
  • Are all therapists trained to deal with severe OCD? And how does one find a qualified OCD therapist?
  • If an educator spots a student in their classroom who appears to be dealing with OCD or an anxiety disorder, what do you recommend?
  • Can you speak to the overlap between OCD and eating disorders?
  • What should we know about OCD and individuals who are on the autism spectrum?
  • Can OCD be completely cured or is it something that someone learns to live with?
  • Has the COVID-19 pandemic had a lingering impact on how people deal with anxiety in various forms?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.

Resources

You may also find this information useful:

About Dr. Crosby

Jesse M. Crosby, PhD, is a clinical associate at McLean Hospital and a lecturer on psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Crosby has specialized clinical and research experience with perfectionism, OCD and related disorders, anxiety, and behavioral addictions. His work is focused on identifying important processes and techniques for effective treatment with a specialization in acceptance and commitment therapy and cognitive behavior therapy.

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