Help for OCD and Counting

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OCD and Counting

OCD people count in many varied ways. These include counting objects, actions and numbers. Some use their fingers to count and others count mentally. For some it is an occasional activity while others are consumed with it and count secretly while conversing with people or during working hours. If they don’t count, they may become agitated and if their counting does not end up on the desired total, they may continue counting until they are satisfied with the result.

Why Do OCD People Count

OCD counting is a compulsion and it is performed in an attempt to settle anxiety and feelings of dread. A preference for certain numbers or types of counting often relates to the person’s background and upbringing although this may not always be apparent to them. After counting, they feel content for a while but then the urge comes again, often accompanied by intense anxiety. If treatment is not sought, it can cause problems in daily life.

Different Types of OCD Counting

OCD and counting go together and are played out in many different forms. Here are some of the possible ways that OCD counting can be exhibited:

  • Counting everything in multiples – for example in twos or fives – is fairly common. If a person cannot get what they are counting to add up in the desired multiples, they may prolong the counting session until the figures balance in a way that is acceptable to them.
  • Many people count specific items that can be anything from street lamps to cars to window panes to ceiling tiles.
  • Some people count their steps and avoid stepping on certain paving stones or odd or even stones.
  • Others add up series of numbers such as those seen on number plates, digital clocks or the number of letters in words or sentences.
  • Counting when under stress is common and people may count rapidly on their fingers and toes, moving each digit as they say or think a number.
  • Many counters are able to keep their counting compulsions hidden and may simply appear distracted while they are secretly counting.

Treatments for OCD Counters

Treatment for OCD and counting follows similar lines to general treatment for OCD. The first step may be to place the person on medication. This relieves the feelings of anxiety that drive the compulsion to count. Drugs commonly used include tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Once the anxiety has abated, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is recommended as the most effective treatment. This involves a two-pronged approach that addresses the thought processes and the actions of an individual. The cognitive part involves learning to handle stressful situations and anxiety and how to create new thought patterns about how to act when feeling stressed. The behavioral part of CBT involves exposing the person to known triggers for counting and helping them to engage in something else instead. Over a period of time, they can prove to themselves that the counting is not necessary and there are other ways to cope with life.

OCD counting is often kept hidden from friends and family but people can be helped. OCD counters should not be afraid to confide in their doctor and seek help for relief from this condition.


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