The 4 Different Types of OCD: What You Need to Know

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a mental disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. People with OCD experience intrusive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and feel the need to perform certain rituals or routines (compulsions) in order to try to control their obsessions. While compulsions are often repetitive behaviors, they can also take the form of mental rituals such as counting, saying certain words or phrases, or avoidance behaviors.

There are 4 Common types of OCD which include contamination OCD, harm OCD, symmetry or order OCD, and hoarding OCD. OCD can be a very debilitating disorder, causing people to miss work or school, avoid social situations, and isolate themselves from loved ones. People with one of these types of OCD often recognize that their thoughts and behaviors are irrational, but they feel powerless to stop them.

What are the differences between the 4 types of OCD?

All types of OCD are similar because they are characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Once a trigger sets off an obsession, the person feels compelled to perform a specific behavior or ritual in order to try to ease their anxiety. However, each type of OCD has its own unique set of symptoms.

Contamination OCD

People with contamination OCD are obsessed with germs, dirt, and toxins. They may worry about contracting a disease or contaminating others. Common compulsions include excessive hand-washing, cleaning, and avoidance of places that are perceived to be contaminated.

An example of contamination OCD would be a person who is constantly washing their hands because they are afraid of getting sick. They may avoid shaking hands with people or touching doorknobs. And suppose they do find themselves in this position. In that case, they might sterilize the surface before touching it or immediately use hand sanitizer.

Harm OCD

People with harm OCD are obsessed with the fear of harming themselves or others, either on purpose or by accident. They may have intrusive thoughts about stabbing someone or running them over with a car. Common compulsions include avoidance of potential triggers, such as knives or cars, repetitive checking behaviors (e.g., making sure the oven is turned off), and mental rituals (e.g., repeating words in their head to cancel out the bad thought).

An example of harm OCD would be a person who is constantly checking to make sure the oven is turned off. They may have intrusive thoughts about turning it on and harming themselves or their loved ones. As a result, they avoid using the oven altogether. Or, if they do use it, they will stand in front of it and watch it the entire time it’s on.

Symmetry and Order OCD

People with symmetry and order OCD are obsessed with creating order and symmetry in their environment. They may feel the need to arrange objects in a certain way or have a fear of asymmetrical objects. Common compulsions include straightening items, counting, organizing, and excessive cleaning.

An example of symmetry and order OCD would be a person who cannot leave the house unless everything is in its place. They may have a fear of asymmetrical objects and feel the need to straighten them. They might also count items or arrange them in a certain way.

Hoarding OCD

People with hoarding OCD are obsessed with the fear of losing or throwing away things that they may need in the future. They may feel the need to save everything, even if it’s of no use to them. Common compulsions include collecting items, excessive buying, and the avoidance of throwing anything away.

An example of hoarding OCD would be a person who saves every newspaper, magazine, or piece of junk mail they get. They may have a hard time throwing anything away, even if it’s of no use to them.

It is important to note that hoarding OCD is its own diagnosis and is not the same as OCD. While people with OCD may have some hoarding tendencies, people with hoarding OCD do not necessarily have any other symptoms of OCD.

What causes these types of OCD?

The causes of OCD are not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors.

Genetic Factors

There is evidence to suggest that OCD runs in families. However, experts believe that certain genes may make a person more likely to develop the disorder.

Biological Factors

It is also believed that certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin, may play a role in the development of OCD. These chemicals are responsible for sending messages between nerve cells in the brain. Imbalances in these chemicals have been linked to mental disorders, such as OCD.

Environmental Factors

Certain life events, such as trauma or stress, may trigger the onset of OCD. For example, a person who experienced a lot of upheaval in their childhood may be more likely to develop the disorder.

What are the treatment options for OCD?

There are many different treatment options available for OCD. Some people may benefit from medication, while others may benefit from therapy.


There are several types of medications that can be used to treat OCD. The most common type of medication is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). SSRIs work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. This can help to reduce the symptoms of OCD.

Other types of medications that may be used to treat OCD include tricyclic antidepressants and antipsychotics. These medications can be effective, but they also come with a risk of side effects. As such, they are typically only prescribed when other treatments have failed.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of therapy used to treat OCD. CBT works by helping a person to identify and change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their OCD.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a type of CBT that has been found to be particularly effective in treating OCD. ERP involves exposure to the things that trigger a person’s OCD symptoms without engaging in the compulsions or rituals that they typically would. This can help to reduce the strength of the OCD symptoms over time.

There are many other types of therapies that may be used to treat OCD. For example, some people may benefit from family therapy, while others may find group therapy to be helpful.


If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of OCD, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. OCD can be a very debilitating disorder, but with treatment, most people are able to live normal, productive lives.

Makin Wellness Counselors can help answer any questions about OCD. Start the process of moving forward with Pennsylvania online therapy. At Makin Wellness, we serve the Greater Pittsburgh, PA area, the Philidelphia, PA region, and the entire state of Pennsylvania. To learn more about how we can help you, start your healing journey now.

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Shivam

    OCD is explained very well. Thanks

  2. Soniya

    This post is incredibly informative! The explanation of the 4 different types of OCD is thorough and easy to understand. The writing style is clear and the information is presented in a way that is both educational and approachable. I appreciated the insight into a complex and often misunderstood condition. Thank you for shedding light on OCD and for providing such a valuable resource.

    1. Makinwellness

      Thanks so much for your question! Having difficulty with chewing noises can be included under OCD or other related disorders, but that isn’t an exclusive categorization. A licensed therapist can better determine that based on other criteria that would be covered within a counseling session.

  3. Cleetus

    Have a nephew who is terrified of germs but doesn’t have excessive cleaning behaviours.In fact he refused to shower.Doesnt sound like typical OCD.

  4. Walter

    Can someone develop more than one type of OCD?

    1. Makinwellness

      Great question, Walter. You can have one main type of OCD or have symptoms of multiple types of OCD. The type of OCD can change over time, as well. The fact that a person’s OCD can morph over time makes it even more important to get to the root of the OCD through therapy and not just treat the symptoms.

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