Clear Recovery Center is now Clear Behavioral Health!

What are the 4 Types of OCD? Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Home » Our Blog » What are the 4 Types of OCD? Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic condition characterized by uncontrollable and recurring thoughts (obsessions), repetitive behaviors (compulsions), or both. People with OCD often experience symptoms that consume considerable time and can disrupt their daily lives, leading to significant distress across several life domains.[1] OCD can present in many forms, however, there are four main types that are most common.

Understanding OCD is crucial for both individuals grappling with its challenges and for those seeking to support them. Thankfully, there are effective strategies and resources available to alleviate symptoms and improve overall quality of life. Today, Clear Behavioral Health will explore OCD and its subtypes, giving you a better understanding of the nuances and complexities of this condition and empowering you to navigate its challenges with knowledge and insight.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health condition characterized by recurring unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions can significantly interfere with daily activities, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Obsessions are intrusive and distressing thoughts, images, or urges that repeatedly occur and can cause anxiety or discomfort. Common obsessions include fears of contamination, fears of harming oneself or others, and obsessive thoughts about order or symmetry.[2]

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rigid rules. Compulsions are often aimed at reducing distress or preventing a feared event or situation. Examples of this include excessive hand-washing, checking things repeatedly, counting, or mentally repeating phrases.[2]

OCD can vary greatly in severity, and individuals may experience different symptoms and patterns. It’s considered a chronic condition, but treatment options such as therapy (particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy) and medication can help manage symptoms effectively for many people.

What are the Diagnostic Criteria for OCD?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), outlines the official diagnostic criteria for OCD. According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of OCD requires the presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both, which are time-consuming (taking more than one hour per day) or cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning:[3]

A. Presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both:

B. The obsessions or compulsions are time-consuming or cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

C. The disturbance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder (such as excessive worries, as seen in generalized anxiety disorder, or preoccupation with appearance, as seen in body dysmorphic disorder, etc.)[3]

What are the 4 Types of OCD?

OCD commonly presents as at least one of four main subtypes:

Contamination OCD

This involves an irrational fear of contamination or germs, leading to compulsive behaviors such as excessive hand washing, avoiding touching certain objects or surfaces, or cleaning excessively.

Checking OCD

People with this subtype experience intrusive thoughts related to harm or danger, leading to compulsive checking behaviors. This can include repeatedly checking locks, appliances, or switches, or constantly seeking reassurance from others.

Symmetry and Ordering OCD

People with this subtype have obsessions related to symmetry, orderliness, or exactness. They may feel distressed if things are not arranged or organized in a particular way and may engage in compulsive behaviors such as arranging objects symmetrically or following strict routines.

Intrusive Thought OCD

In this subtype, individuals experience distressing intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses without engaging in obvious external compulsions. These thoughts often revolve around taboo or upsetting topics such as violence, sexuality, or religion. Despite not exhibiting visible compulsions, individuals may engage in mental rituals or avoidance behaviors to cope with the distress caused by these intrusive thoughts.

It’s important to note that OCD is a complex disorder, and individuals may experience symptoms that don’t neatly fit into these categories. Additionally, some individuals may experience symptoms from multiple subtypes simultaneously.[4]

What Causes OCD?

The exact cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder is not fully understood, but it’s believed to involve a combination of genetic, neurological, environmental, and cognitive factors:

  • Genetic factors: There appears to be a genetic component to OCD, as the disorder tends to run in families. Individuals with a family history of OCD or related disorders may have a higher risk of developing the condition themselves.
  • Brain structure and function: Differences in brain structure and function, particularly involving areas such as the orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and basal ganglia, have been implicated in OCD. These areas are involved in decision-making, emotional regulation, and motor control, which are all relevant to the symptoms of OCD.
  • Neurotransmitter imbalance: Changes in neurotransmitter levels, particularly involving serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate, may play a role in OCD. Serotonin, in particular, is thought to be involved in regulating mood and anxiety, and medications that affect serotonin levels (such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs) are often used to treat OCD.
  • Environmental factors: Stressful life events, trauma, or significant life changes may trigger the onset of OCD symptoms in some individuals. Childhood experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse, may also contribute to the development of the disorder.
  • Cognitive factors: Certain cognitive patterns, such as perfectionism, intolerance of uncertainty, and maladaptive beliefs about responsibility and guilt, may contribute to the development and maintenance of OCD symptoms. These cognitive factors can interact with genetic and environmental factors to increase the risk of developing OCD.

The specific causes of OCD can vary from person to person, and research is ongoing to further understand its origin. Not everyone with genetic or environmental risk factors will go on to develop this condition.[5]

How Can I Help a Loved One with OCD—Or Get Help for Myself?

If you have a loved one struggling with OCD—or if you’re experiencing symptoms yourself—there are steps you can take to seek help and support. Treatment for OCD typically involves a combination of therapy and, in some cases, medication.

Encourage Seeking Professional Help

If you suspect that you or your loved one may have OCD, it’s important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. They can conduct a comprehensive assessment and provide an official diagnosis, as well as recommend appropriate treatment options.

Explore Therapy Options

Therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and a specialized form of CBT called exposure and response prevention (ERP) has been shown to be highly effective in treating OCD.[6] These therapies involve gradually exposing individuals to their fears or triggers while refraining from engaging in compulsive behaviors. This helps them learn to tolerate anxiety and reduce the frequency and intensity of their symptoms.

Other therapeutic approaches, such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) or mindfulness-based therapies, may also be beneficial.

Consider Medication

In addition to therapy, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other antidepressants may be prescribed to help alleviate and manage OCD symptoms. These medications can help regulate neurotransmitter levels in the brain and reduce the severity of obsessions and compulsions. It’s essential to work closely with a psychiatrist to determine the most appropriate medication and dosage for the individual’s needs.

Create a Supportive Environment

Offer understanding, patience, and support to your loved one as they navigate their OCD symptoms and treatment. Educate yourself about the disorder to better understand what they’re going through and how you can be a supportive ally. Avoid judgment or criticism and instead focus on providing encouragement and assistance in accessing treatment.

Explore Outpatient Treatment Programs

In some cases, outpatient programs or intensive therapy programs may be recommended for individuals with severe OCD symptoms or those who have not responded well to traditional treatment approaches. These programs typically offer a more intensive level of care and support, including structured therapy sessions and medication management.

Remember that seeking help for OCD is a positive and proactive step towards managing the condition and improving overall well-being. With the right support and treatment, individuals with OCD can learn to manage their symptoms effectively and lead fulfilling lives.

Your Mental Health Recovery Choice is Clear

At Clear Behavioral Health, accessing OCD treatment is seamlessly integrated into our comprehensive continuum of care tailored to meet each client’s unique needs and treatment objectives. Our approach is rooted in evidence-based practices, always delivered with compassion, and personalized to ensure the most effective treatment outcomes.

Clients at Clear have the opportunity to transition smoothly from residential mental health treatment to our outpatient programs and aftercare services, all conveniently located in Los Angeles. This continuum of care includes a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Outpatient (OP) levels of care. By remaining within our recovery support network and maintaining continuity of care with their clinical team, our clients can focus on the healing process and reach their maximum potential.

Contact us today to discover more about accessing OCD treatment at Clear Behavioral Health and embark on the journey toward improved mental health and well-being for yourself or a loved one.


  1. Geller, J. (2022, October). What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?; American Psychiatric Association. on February 13, 2024
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, October). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.; National Institute of Mental Health. on February 12, 2024
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, June). Table 3.13, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Comparison.; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). on February 12, 2024
  4. Williams, M. T., Mugno, B., Franklin, M., & Faber, S. (2013). Symptom Dimensions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Phenomenology and Treatment Outcomes with Exposure and Ritual Prevention. Psychopathology, 46(6), 365–376. on February 12, 2024
  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2022). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). on February 12, 2024
  6. Simpson, H. B., & Hezel, D. M. (2019). Exposure and response prevention for obsessive-compulsive disorder: A review and new directions. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 61(7), 85–92. on February 12, 2024

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Treatment For The Whole Family
Take the next step. Call us now.

Take the next step. Call us now.

Are you a good fit for an intensive outpatient program?

I struggle with burnout, depression, or anxiety

I am exhausted and no amount of sleep seems to help

I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I need to do

​​I have tried talk therapy and need more support

Has a clinician referred you to IOP treatment?