What Are The Different Types Of OCD?

Reviewed by Tanya Harrell, PhD, LPC, NCC

Published 06/24/2022

Most of us have heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but did you know that there are different kinds of obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD? Even those diagnosed with the condition may not realize that there are different kinds of OCD. The general public is often misinformed about obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD, thinking that it is solely about cleanliness and orderliness or that everyone with OCD has contamination OCD. This is simply not the case.

What Is OCD?

OCD Is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. To be diagnosed with OCD, you must experience obsessions, compulsions, or both obsessions and compulsions. When it comes to OCD, an obsession is defined as “Recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive, unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress.” Compulsions are defined as “Repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to the rules that must be applied rigidly.” (Source). Someone with OCD typically experiences a combination of obsessive thoughts or urges and compulsions that are meant to halt or minimize the obsessive thoughts. For example, if someone with OCD is obsessed with preparing for a disaster or believing that something bad will happen if they throw things away, they may hoard items. If someone’s obsessed with contamination, they may wash obsessively. The hoarding and washing, in these cases, are compulsions, where the thoughts are obsessions.

How Many Types Of OCD Are There?

Some people search for “what are the four types of OCD?” to learn about the different forms of OCD. There are more than four types of OCD, but here are some of the most common ways that OCD presents in people diagnosed with the condition:

  • Contamination-based OCD
  • Symmetry or obsession based OCD
  • Checking OCD
  • Harm obsessions that might include checking behaviors or compulsions
  • Pure O, which refers to a kind of OCD where someone experiences obsessions without experiencing compulsions

This is by no means an extensive list. If obsessions and compulsions are present and aren’t attributed to another condition or anything else going on in your life, you may have OCD. OCD can be a debilitating condition, but it is treatable.

Understanding OCD Subtypes

It’s important to remember that OCD looks different for every sufferer. Here’s information concerning some of the most common OCD subtypes or ways that OCD can present to help you understand the different forms of OCD and what it’s like to live with them.

Contamination Fear(s)

Contamination is a common obsession for those with OCD. This is the type of OCD where someone is likely to obsess over cleaning, sanitizing, hand washing, and so on. Not everyone with OCD is concerned with contamination - at all. However, this subtype of OCD interferes with a person’s life just as much as any other OCD form.


This is another type of OCD that is spoken about more commonly. If someone has OCD that centers around checking, they may engage in behaviors like checking to make sure that doors are locked obsessively, feeling an extreme need to walk or drive back home to check that something is off or locked even if they’ve done so multiple times, re-reading emails and messages over and over again to ensure that there aren’t any errors, and so on.

Symmetry And Ordering

Someone with OCD who experiences obsessions and compulsions related to symmetry or order will arrange things until they’re “just right.” Severe feelings of distress or desperation will persist if things aren’t arranged properly. It is not the same as a pointed desire for things to look nice. OCD related to symmetry and order is something that can interfere with a person’s ability to function, and it can cause severe distress. Someone might even avoid specific areas or items because of the condition if they have this form of OCD.

Relationship OCD

Relationship OCD is a type of OCD that’s lesser-known to the general public. People with relationship OCD experience intrusive thoughts about their relationships, such as, “is my partner right for me?” or “do I truly love them?” They may have a pervasive and extreme fear of being in the wrong relationship and what the consequences of that could be, or they may have other varying extreme beliefs and fears about relationships, such as a fear of being uncoupled, whether these are related to current relationships or relationships as a general topic.

Harm OCD

Harm OCD refers to intrusive thoughts and fears about harming others. Someone with harm OCD will often have an extreme fear of harming others that is disproportionate and unrealistic. Although someone with harm OCD, in reality, would likely never even consider harming another person, they may have an extreme fear of harming or killing someone. They might fear harming someone close to them, such as a child or another family member. Upsetting and intrusive thoughts such as, “what if I kill my spouse?” might persist in someone’s mind with no realistic or pointed reason, which is exceptionally distressing and terrifying for sufferers.

Pure O

Pure O or purely obsessive OCD is a form of OCD where obsessions occur without external compulsions. The obsessions that someone with Pure O experiences can impact a person severely, and these obsessions can center around nearly any topic.

Risk Factors For OCD

Risk factors for obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD can include:

  • Family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder or another mental health condition
  • Personal history of another mental health condition, such as anxiety
  • Biological factors
  • The observation of obsessive or compulsive behaviors
  • Trauma or life events

With these risk factors in mind, it is also crucial to remember that OCD can impact anyone. Although these factors may contribute to the potential that someone will develop OCD, anyone can develop OCD. You do not have to have any of these risk factors present in your life to develop OCD. If your child has OCD, it is not your fault as a parent. The best thing you can do is to support them and help them get the help they need. If someone is suffering, they deserve care and support, and there doesn’t need to be a frank explanation for why someone has a mental health disorder for them to get the help they need.

Disorders Related To OCD

There’s a group of disorders or concerns that are considered “obsessive-compulsive related disorders.” These specific disorders include BDD, hoarding disorder, body-focused repetitive behaviors, and olfactory reference syndrome. Although these disorders aren’t OCD, they’re related to OCD.

Additionally, there are several common comorbidities that a person with OCD may be diagnosed with or experience. These include but are not limited to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), trichotillomania or chronic hair pulling, dermatillomania or chronic skin picking, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and autism spectrum disorder or ASD. Of course, you don’t need to have a comorbid disorder to have OCD; it is just prevalent in many suffers.

If you think that you have OCD or a disorder related to OCD, it’s essential to seek help from a mental health professional to receive a diagnosis.

OCD Facts

  • It’s said that roughly 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 adults in the United States alone suffer from OCD.
  • Approximately one in every 200 children or teenagers suffers from OCD.
  • Gender does not play much of a role in the development of OCD, with men and women suffering equally. OCD can affect someone of any gender, including non-binary or intersex people.
  • Most people with OCD (about 90%) have a comorbid condition, meaning that they are diagnosed with another health condition, such as depression, eating disorders, autism, or anxiety, on top of OCD.
  • OCD used to be categorized as an anxiety disorder, and while it is considered a closely related condition, it is now recognized and categorized on its own.
  • People of any age can develop OCD, including kids.

Do I Have OCD?

If you’re questioning if you have OCD, it is essential to see a medical professional who is qualified to diagnose and treat mental health conditions. Most commonly, a person will go to a psychiatrist for a diagnosis. Diagnosing OCD isn’t scary or invasive. A psychiatrist will ask you questions about your symptoms and how they affect you and diagnose you based on your answers. If you have OCD, you aren’t alone. Again, it’s said that somewhere from 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 adults living in the United States alone have OCD. That’s one out of every 100 adults in the United States. If you believe that you might be struggling with OCD, you can take the OCD test on mind-diagnostics.com here: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/ocd-test.

Treatment For OCD

OCD is most commonly treated by cognitive-behavioral therapy or a subcategory of cognitive-behavioral therapy called ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy. There are also medication options that can be used by people with OCD, whether that is in conjunction with or independent of therapy. You can see a therapist in your local area, or you can work with a therapist or counselor online. Some providers specialize in working with those who have OCD, and symptom reduction is possible. Treatment for OCD is life-changing for many individuals with the condition, so don’t be afraid to reach out for support.