What Are the Different Types of OCD?

Written by Reid Wilson, PhD

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While many have a general understanding of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it’s important to recognize that this disorder encompasses various subtypes, each with its unique set of symptoms and manifestations. By shedding light on the different types of OCD, we can foster a greater understanding of the symptoms and how they affect individuals differently. Here is one of several ways to classify the types of OCD.

1. Contamination

Contamination revolves around an overwhelming fear of germs, dirt, or harmful substances. Individuals with this subtype experience intrusive thoughts about contamination and engage in repetitive behaviors like excessive hand washing or avoiding public spaces. Their fear of contamination may extend to relationships, causing strained social interactions.

2. Checking

Checking entails an obsessive need to repeatedly check things, such as locks, appliances, or personal belongings, to prevent harm or disaster. Individuals with checking OCD might become trapped in an endless loop of verifying and re-verifying, often causing significant disruptions in their daily lives.

3. Symmetry and Orderliness

Symmetry and orderliness manifests as an intense need for things to be perfectly aligned, balanced, or in a specific order. Individuals with this subtype may spend excessive amounts of time arranging objects, organizing items, or adjusting furniture until they feel a sense of “rightness.” Deviations from their desired symmetry or order can provoke significant distress.

4. Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts involve experiencing spontaneous, unwanted thoughts that are often violent, sexual, harming, or taboo in nature. These thoughts cause immense distress, leading individuals to engage in compulsive behaviors or avoidance  as an attempt to neutralize or prevent the thoughts from becoming a reality. It’s important to note that these thoughts do not reflect the individual’s true desires or intentions.

5. Hoarding

Hoarding is characterized by an extreme difficulty in discarding or parting with possessions, leading to cluttered living spaces and an inability to organize. Individuals with hoarding OCD often attach strong emotional significance to their belongings, fearing that discarding them may lead to a loss or harm. This subtype can have profound effects on daily functioning and relationships. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders now classifies hoarding as a disorder “related to” OCD.

It is crucial to remember that OCD is not a reflection of one’s character or willpower but a neurological disorder that requires support. There are a variety of self-help resources that can assist in changing thought patterns, but if further help is required, please seek the help of a mental health professional.

Mental health professionals can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop a tailored treatment plan, which may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Remember, with the right support and treatment, individuals with any type of OCD can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

Take my OCD Self-Test to see if you may be experiencing any of these OCD subtypes.

Also, check out my 4-hour self-help course OCD & the 6-Moment Game: Strategies & Tactics.

About the Author

Dr. Reid Wilson

REID WILSON, Ph.D. has spent his entire 30-year career in the field of self-help for
anxiety disorders and OCD. He is Director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center and is an international expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders, with books translated into nine languages. In 2014 he was honored with the highest award given by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and he was presented the 2019 Service Award by the International OCD Foundation. 

To learn more about Dr. Wilson, click here.

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