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Telling the Difference Between OCD and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Related or Different Disorders?

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Updated July 09, 2014

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) have been a source of considerable confusion and controversy for researchers, health-care providers and patients. Despite having similar names and in some cases, symptoms, OCD and OCPD are distinct forms of mental illness that can be differentiated from one another. Before discussing how OCD and OCPD are different, it may be helpful to first review the characteristics of each disorder.

Characteristics of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) reflects a chronic, maladaptive pattern of dealing with other people and life challenges characterized by:

  • an excessive need for perfectionism and control over all aspects of your environment.
     
  • preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order or organization to the extent that you often forget the major point of the activity.
     
  • excessive devotion to work at the expense of time spent with your friends or family.
     
  • rigidity with respect to matters of morals, ethics or values.
     
  • an inability to get rid of items that no longer have value.
     
  • a miserly spending style towards both you and others.

Characteristics of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder, rather than a personality disorder, where you experience recurrent obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions are:

  • Thoughts, images, or ideas that won’t go away, are unwanted and cause extreme distress.
     
  • Accepted as coming from your own mind, but often feel impossible to control.
     
  • Not simply worries about your everyday problems.
     
  • Distressing enough to cause you to try to get rid of the obsessions with other thoughts or actions, like compulsions.

Compulsions are:

  • Behaviors that you feel you must carry out over and over. Common compulsions include cleaning, counting, checking, requesting or demanding reassurance, and ensuring order and symmetry.
     
  • Aimed at getting rid of your anxiety or to stop a feared situation, such as death of a loved one, from happening.
     
  • Unrealistic solutions to the problems they are supposed to prevent. If you have OCD, you usually recognize that the compulsion has little to do with the actual event, but feel an intense need to carry out the compulsion anyway.

What are the Differences Between OCD and OCPD?

While there appears to be some overlap between these two disorders, there are a number of ways to tell these disorders apart. The biggest difference between OCD and OCPD is the presence of true obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions and compulsions are not present in OCPD.

For example, although both OCD and OCPD may involve being excessively engaged in tasks that require exquisite attention to detail such as list-making, individuals with OCD:

  • use these tasks to reduce anxiety caused by obsessional thoughts. For example, if you have OCD you might make a list over and over again to prevent the death of a loved one. In contrast, if you have OCPD you might justify list-making as a good strategy to improve efficiency.
     
  • are usually distressed by having to carry out these tasks or rituals. In contrast, people with OCPD view activities such as excessive list making or organization of items around the home as necessary and even beneficial.
     
  • spend a much greater amount of time engaged in these tasks or rituals than people with OCPD.

In addition, if you have OCD, you will usually seek help for the psychological stress caused by having to carry out compulsions or the disturbing content or themes of your obsessions. In contrast, if you have OCPD, you will usually seek treatment because of the conflict caused between you and family and friends related to your need to have others conform to your way of doing things.

Finally, whereas the severity of OCD symptoms will often fluctuate over time, OCPD is chronic in nature, with little change in personality style.

Professional Help is Needed for Accurate Diagnosis and Treatment

Although there are clear conceptual differences between OCD and OCPD, in practice these disorders can at times be difficult to tell apart. In addition, sometimes a person can be affected by both OCD and OCPD. In these complex cases, the clinical experience of a qualified mental health professional such as psychiatrist or psychologist is often needed to make a proper diagnosis. As with all forms of mental-illness, a proper diagnosis is essential to ensure the proper treatment.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of either OCD or OCPD, be sure to consult a qualified mental health professional so that you or your family member is able to get the proper care.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, DC: Author

Mancebo, M.C., Eisen, J.L., Grant, J.E., & Rasmussen, S.A. “Obsessive compulsive personality disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder: Clinical characteristics, diagnositic difficulties and treatment” Annals of Clinical Psychology 2005 17: 197-2004.

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