When was OCD first discovered and Is OCD a new disorder?

OCD is not a new disorder. In fact, OCD has been written about for centuries, as far back as the sixth century.

According to Ian Osborn in his book Tormenting Thoughts and Secret Rituals (1999), there are numerous references to what we now call OCD in early religious and Greek writings. Many of the early mentions of OCD are about scrupulosity, which makes sense, given that most of the individuals who could read and write at that time were philosophers, monks, and priests.

Ministers such as Richard Baxter in the 1600s and John Baptist Scaramelli in 1753 wrote excellent advice on obsessive thoughts, both telling readers not to fight the thoughts because that only makes the thoughts stronger, but to instead just accept the thoughts and move on with their day.

Not until Pierre Janet, a French psychiatrist in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was OCD actually written about by its name as we know it today, in his work Obsessions and Psychasthenia. Similar to the earlier religious writers, he suggested that individuals expose themselves to their fears.

Sadly, just as this work was published in 1903, Freud’s writings on psychoanalysis were becoming popular, and therapy for OCD was set back 50 years. Instead of encouraging individuals to confront their fears head on, Freud’s style of therapy encouraged people to confront their unconscious thoughts and impulses only in their heads.

People spent years lying on couches talking about everything that came into their minds so that an analyst could interpret all of their thoughts and dreams and try to come up with why they were experiencing the difficulties they had in their lives. This did absolutely nothing to help OCD; for people suffering from a cognitive and behavioral problem, only discussing their fears did not help get their obsessions or compulsions in check.

Finally, in the 1960s, psychoanalysis came under research scrutiny and was found to have no support, and behavior therapy made huge strides in treatment effectiveness. Ever since then, it has been the main form of therapy for OCD and the most research-supported treatment for it as well.