Obsessive-compulsive disorder historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Priyanka Kumari, M.B.B.S[2] Sonya Gelfand, Abhishek Reddy


Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder. In obsessive-compulsive disorder people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, and ideas which are intrusive and unwanted, and are called obsessions. They also display behaviors called compulsions which are also unwanted, and negatively interfere with the sufferers life. The person often carries out these compulsions in order to rid themselves of the obsessive thoughts, but this only provides temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals or tasks can cause the sufferer great anxiety.

Historical Perspective


  • In the 19th century, ideas of what compulsions and personal obsessions were became a main area of study and analysis.[1]
  • The start of the 20th century brought the largest advancement in the study of obsessions and compulsions as more psychiatrists started to link the two symptoms to one another.
  • Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet were the two most influential people in bringing OCD to the modern level of understanding and diagnosis. Freud’s concept combined the idea of cause and effect, meaning that the obsessions created a need for the compulsions or repetitive behaviors. Janet however, put forth the idea that the cause of the obsessions stemmed from the inability of the person to use a particular type of nervous energy to complete high level of cognitive tasks.
  • The generic term "obsessive compulsive disorder" is not a term that was created in the traditional sense. No one person discovered "obsessive compulsive disorder" rather it was a collective effort of many mental health professionals over a period of many years.

Famous Cases

  • Martin Luther (1483-1546), the first and most important leader of the Protestant Reformation in Europe suffered from OCD.
  • Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), accredited with compiling the first dictionary of the English language, suffered from a compulsion of "odd movements".
  • Eminent evolutionist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is now also a well-known historical figure who suffered from OCD.
  • Howard Hughes (1905 -1976) is perhaps the most famous person known to have suffered with OCD in more recent times. He was the twentieth century American aviator, engineer, industrialist, film producer, film director, philanthropist, and one of the wealthiest people in the world, whose story was told in the 2004 film, "The Aviator".
  • Engineer Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) displayed a number of characteristics that indicate that he suffered from OCD.
  • American Civil War general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's (1824-1863) odd behaviors suggest that, despite his prominent achievements, he suffered from OCD.
  • Lawyer Ernst Lanzer (1878-1914) was given the nickname "Rat Man" by Sigmund Freud due to his odd compulsion of having an obsession with nightmarish fantasies about rats.


Historical Perspective


  • There is limited information about the historical perspective of [disease name].


  • [Disease name] was first discovered by [name of scientist], a [nationality + occupation], in [year]/during/following [event].
  • The association between [important risk factor/cause] and [disease name] was made in/during [year/event].
  • In [year], [scientist] was the first to discover the association between [risk factor] and the development of [disease name].
  • In [year], [gene] mutations were first implicated in the pathogenesis of [disease name].

Landmark Events in the Development of Treatment Strategies

Impact on Cultural History

Famous Cases

The following are a few famous cases of [disease name]:


  1. Sources used include Stanford School of Medicine and the National Institute of Mental Health.

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