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Understanding OCD - The Discovery of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

written by: Laura Jean Karr • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 8/29/2010

Learn more about the timeline of when obsessive compulsive disorder was first discovered and who discovered OCD. We'll also look at how the mental health community brought the disease into its diagnosable state that it is in today.

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    What is OCD?

    Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is categorized by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Stanford School of Medicine as an anxiety disorder. The overwhelming anxiety is what causes the characteristic symptoms that maintain OCD.

    The characteristics that contribute to the symptoms of OCD come by the way of unwanted thoughts that spur repetitive behaviors. For example, having an anxiety over germs may cause someone to have thoughts of becoming disease ridden. Those thoughts in turn will cause the person to adopt repetitive actions in order to relieve the anxiety of being around what they perceive to be an overwhelming amount of germs. Not all those who are diagnosed with OCD have this particular germ anxiety, as there are many forms of anxieties that can develop depending on the individual.

    It is also important to note, that although many people can develop repetitive behaviors not all of those are considered to have OCD. The obsessive compulsive disorder aspect comes into focus when those unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors interfere with someone’s ability to lead their daily life.

    For more information on OCD symptoms and treatment information see, The Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Here we are going to take a look into the history of the disorder and learn more about who discovered ocd to begin with.

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    Who Discovered OCD?

    Faces Having unwanted thoughts and establishing repetitive type behavior were seen as symptoms of melancholia back in the 1600s. Melancholia is a severe form of depression where someone looses the ability to enjoy any aspect of life at all. During that time, when religious leaders served many roles within their local communities such as preacher, doctor and judge the main cause of melancholia was seen as something that stemmed from a lack of being a devout religious practitioner.

    It wasn’t until the emerging medical community started to break out from under the umbrella of religious authority in the 19th century, that forms of neurosis began to be seen as legitimate mental health issues rather than being a problem of those who were acting as less than devout. Throughout the development of the 19th century, ideas of what compulsions and personal obsessions were became a main area of study and analysis.

    The start of the 20th century brought the largest advancement in the study of obsessions and compulsions as more psychiatrists were bringing the two issues together. The two key figures in bringing OCD to the level of understanding and diagnosis that we have as a combined disorder today are Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet. Freud’s concept brought together the idea of cause and effect, meaning that it was the obsessions that created the need for the compulsions or repetitive behaviors. While Janet brought the idea forward that the cause of the obsessions stemmed from the inability of the person to use a particular type of nervous energy to complete high level mental, and so it was redirected into more primitive psychological activities such as focused obsessions and impulses.

    The generic term "obsessive compulsive disorder" is not a term that was created in the traditional sense. No one person discovered ocd, but rather the term developed over the years as mental health professionals studied the various symptoms that people displayed. As psychiatrists delved deeper into the relationship between anxiety, obsessions and compulsions the basis of who discovered OCD cannot be narrowed down beyond the many who have contributed to the diagnosis.

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    Sources

    Sources used included the Stanford School of Medicine and the National Institute of Mental Health. Image used is royalty free stock photography.