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Question
Posted by: Michelle | 2003/03/07

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Hi there, hope you can help me! I am living with my partner and his brother (I think) has an obsessive compulsive disorder-i.e. he washes his hands ALL the time! We go through an entire cake of soap in a day, it's terrible. WE've spoken to him about it, to no avail. he STILL does it. Prior to this he had an obsession about locking the house up. I think he needs help-what can I do to help him? He's 21 and an absolute recluse, which aggravates the matter. HI family is aware of this, but no one knows what to do as he gets upset if you ask him why he was washing his hands AGAIN.

Any advise on how to deal with this is welcome.
Thanks
Michelle

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Our expert says:
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Dear Michelle,
This certainly does sound like an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD ). Such folks are seizd by obsessive thoughts about some forms of danger --- infection or other danger ( hence much washing ) and security / safety, hence much locking up. They may feel so convinced that the world is dangerous that they can become reclusive. Their life can become so complicated by the rituals they use to try to feel safe ( not only hand-washing, scrubbing and cleaning things --- but perhaps complex rituals about getting up and getting dressed --- like tap the left shoe three times before you put it on, but the right shoe is tapped only twice, and you must put on the left sock before the right, and so on -- and if you make a mistake, like a superstitious rain dance, you have to go back to the beginning and start again. Eventually, it can take half the day to get up and dressed, and perhaps much of the other half to prepare for bedtime.
It is a serious and disabling disorder, but one which can usually be very effectively treated, As with every disorder, the primary problem is, often, to persuade the person that this is a disorder wich can be helped --- and to go to the appropriate specialist ( here, a psychiarist ) for treatment.
In his case, challenging his obsessions and rituals doesn't help, in the sense that he doesn't welcome them, either, but feels that disaster threatens if he neglects the. Asking him why he does it doesn't help much, either, because he really can't explain. It can be worth explaining that this type of problem is well recognizd, and he may perhaps aree that it is very inconvenient for him, and maybe some of these things have got a bit out of proportion and are difficult for him to control. One can only encourage him to seek treatment, and help to make the arrangements when he agrees to do so.

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