Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Effective For Youth With OCD


Most children and adolescents receiving cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are symptom free a year after the cessation of treatment, according to recent research.

OCD in Youth

In the U.S., approximately half a million children and teens suffer from OCD, or about one in 200 youth. These individuals experience obsessions, which are unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that are distressing, and cause anxiety. The intense anxiety triggers compulsions, or ritualistic behaviors that temporarily calm the anxiety.

Children might obsess about dying, getting sick, germs, bad things happening, doing things wrong, or needing to get things “just right.” Examples of ritualistic behaviors include hand washing, cleaning, doing things evenly, asking the same question repeatedly, checking, counting, tapping, arranging, and hoarding things.

OCD is an extremely stressful condition that can make it nearly impossible for children and teens to function well socially, or academically. If, for instance, a child feels compelled to tap everything they touch seven times to avoid catastrophe, it naturally interferes with their normal daily activities, and personal development.

CBT Benefits for OCD

Generally, CBT helps individuals become aware of ineffective, or negative thought and behavior patterns. Then, more constructive ways of thinking and acting are chosen and practiced.

Young people with OCD who receive CBT learn to recognize their obsessive, anxiety provoking thoughts, and then practice tolerating the anxiety instead of using compulsive behaviors to “chase” anxiety away. They also acquire new thought patterns to replace the distressing ones.

Typically, the entire family is involved in the therapy since positive outcomes are strengthened when parents, and older siblings support the treatment method. Parents also need to watch for the return of symptoms once CBT sessions have ended. Addressing return symptoms early can prevent worsening, or full-blown OCD recurrence. Booster therapy sessions are generally all that’s required to reestablish what was earlier learned.

Finding Help

The recent study validating the effectiveness of CBT for childhood and adolescent OCD involved investigators at Aarhus University, and psychiatry clinics in Norway and Sweden. The study participants, 269 children and adolescents with OCD, lived in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

The research indicated that 92 percent of the 177 youths immediately benefitting from CBT were symptom free a year following their final therapy session.

These findings suggest that parents seeking help for a child diagnosed with OCD should locate a CBT clinic or therapist with an excellent reputation for treating OCD in young people. Listings of treatment specialists can be found at the International OCD Foundation, and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies websites (links below).

Sources: Aarhus University; International OCD Foundation; Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies; IOCDF
Photo credit: Randen Pederson

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