June 19


Types of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

June 19, 2023

ocd, types of ocd

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is widely discussed in our culture nationally, through the media, and on social media. However, there are a lot of misconceptions about what exactly OCD is. It’s critical that people have a correct understanding of OCD and access to research-backed information so that those who have OCD can get access to the resources they need.

What Is OCD?

Types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Order by Dhinakaran Gajavarathan is licensed with CC BY 2.0

OCD is often portrayed as a condition characterized by an affinity for cleaning or organizing. Alternatively, it may be presented as somebody having what would more accurately be described as a quirk, such as having a collection and talking about it. While cleaning and collecting may be a part of an individual’s experience with OCD, that depiction drastically oversimplifies and undermines the struggles of this condition.

OCD presents differently for different individuals, but there are two main aspects associated with this condition: obsession and compulsion. An individual can technically meet the diagnostic criteria for OCD with one or the other, but the two tend to be interconnected. While OCD is defined by these two characteristics, there are also several types of OCD. These will be discussed in more detail later in the article.

Obsession is characterized by recurrent intrusive thoughts. These thoughts disrupt the daily life of the individual experiencing them by causing anxiety, making them fearful of outcomes, or making them feel as if they absolutely have to do something. An example of this would be thinking that someone will break into their home and either cause damage to their property or harm a loved one.

Compulsion is characterized by the person partaking in behaviors repeatedly in order to try and attain relief from the obsessive thoughts. These behaviors are a desperate attempt to ward off the perceived negative outcomes that are continuously at the forefront of the individual’s mind. Unfortunately, these attempts only provide temporary relief.

If the obsessive thoughts are related to home invasion, the associated compulsions would be things such as checking locks and security cameras frequently. This is much more than just checking them when you leave your house and before you go to bed. In order to meet the diagnostic criteria, the individual would have to do these checks several times a day beyond what is reasonable. It also needs to be prohibitive to the individual’s life. This means that the person isn’t able to go to sleep until they’ve checked the lock 30 times, or they’re unable to concentrate at school or work because they are concerned about their home security.

What Are the Types of OCD?

While OCD doesn’t have official types in a diagnostic capacity, there are several common symptom groupings that are generally accepted by professionals.


Checking is one of the most common types of OCD that comes to mind when you think about OCD. This involves checking things repeatedly, way beyond the amount that is reasonable. For individuals with this type of OCD, the act of checking is the compulsion that they feel compelled to fulfill. What they feel the need to check can vary and is related to what their obsessive thoughts are. If the obsession is school or work related, the individual might go back to their assignment board and check that they have submitted an assignment continuously until a response is received.


Another type of OCD that’s often discussed is organization. Despite the fact that it’s talked about often, the severity of this type is often downplayed. It goes beyond simply preferring to have a tidy space. This type of OCD is characterized by needing to have everything exactly in place. It could present as skipping meals to alphabetize books on a bookcase, but then taking them down and doing it again because the obsessive thoughts won’t allow the person to believe everything is still in place.


Contamination is another fairly common presentation of OCD. For individuals with this type, they believe that something negative in a space or in contact with them is capable of contaminating them. Often, the concern is that there are pervasive germs, and the compulsion is to sanitize constantly.

While eliminating harmful microbes is a healthy choice, it can be harmful if taken to the extreme. We have to be exposed to some microbes in order to develop and maintain immunity. Additionally, constant exposure to cleaning chemicals can be harmful, constant handwashing can irritate skin, and focusing on germs can prevent focus on other important aspects of life.

Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts is another type of OCD. This can present in several different ways but generally involves disturbing thoughts. Often, people with this type of OCD experience unwanted thoughts about disasters or harming others. This can be especially challenging because the thoughts don’t align with the person’s or society’s beliefs, and they’re unable to perform any compulsions that might provide temporary relief.


The final commonly recognized type of OCD is rumination. This is similar in presentation to the intrusive thoughts type, but the recurring thoughts are not unsettling or dangerous. In this type, individuals experience recurrent thoughts about subjects that are harder to verify or find a resolution for. These could be religious or dealing with metaphysical concepts.

People with this type tend to conduct hours and hours of research trying to obtain answers to their intrusive thoughts. This prevents them from tending to things that are of more immediate concern. It’s also disruptive to their happiness because it’s unlikely that they’ll ever obtain the answers they seek.

Receive OCD Diagnosis and Treatment at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

No matter the type of OCD, early diagnosis and intervention is key to stopping the obsession-compulsion cycle. At NeuroHealth Arlington Heights in Illinois, we’re skilled at conducting all of the necessary testing to determine your diagnosis and treatment plan.

The intervention that’s most often recommended and has the highest success rate for individuals with OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT is a type of therapy that addresses the connection between thoughts and behaviors, and it can provide a number of tools that address the needs of individuals with OCD. We can also work with schools and other providers to ensure that all of your needs are met and advocated for.

Get Treatment Today

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.