OCD and Family-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

stock images from freedigitalphotos.net

stock images from freedigitalphotos.net

A recent study has shown that a family-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program significantly benefits children as young as five years old who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. The therapy used deals with “understanding, managing and reducing OCD symptoms”  through lessons and exercises, with a high degree of parental involvement. The study, which involved children ages five through eight, included not only educating families about OCD, but showing parents and their children how to appropriately respond to compulsions and other symptoms of the disorder. Not surprisingly, these lessons were geared toward the developmental level of the children. Dr. Jennifer Freeman, the study’s leads author, said her group has published a manual for therapists, detailing this family-based CBT.

I think this is great news! While any report about beneficial therapy for those with OCD gives us reason to be optimistic, I think this study is particularly encouraging. We’re talking about children as young as five! The first thing that struck me about this study is the fact that the children were not medicated. I have personally heard from many parents who have been reluctant to bring their young children to a mental health provider because they were afraid medication would be insisted upon. Perhaps this study will ease their minds or, at least, give way to discussion with their child’s therapist.

Of course, the best therapy in the world isn’t any good if it’s not used. I’ve written before about evidence-based therapy, and how some therapists tend to veer from proven treatments. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important that we all keep up on the latest developments in OCD and educate ourselves as much as possible. Hopefully, the manual that Dr. Freeman and her colleagues have developed will be readily available to health care providers in the near future.

Because the study discussed here is recent, the question of how these children fare long-term has yet to be answered. Nevertheless, I believe there are many benefits, and few drawbacks, to starting therapy early. Perhaps we will see that OCD, for some of these children, can even be nipped in the bud. And even if that’s not the case, parents and children will have learned valuable lessons, and acquired the necessary tools, to fight OCD down the road.



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10 Responses to OCD and Family-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  1. I agree that early treatment is good. And I would imagine it would take alert and caring parents to catch the symptoms that such young children might be exhibiting. Those are probably the kinds of parents that would gladly seek treatment for their child that involved them. I guess I’m stereotyping a bit here. I’m just thinking of my own parents. No way would they have participated in such therapy! But that’s OK. I got help on my own, and it worked out.

  2. nrkellner says:

    As an educator interested in OCD and other mental health issues, I appreciate the information in this post. It is so important that this information be available to professionals in a school setting who can provide guidance to families seeking help. Thank you, once again, for providing this forum.

    • You bring up an excellent point: that school professionals should be educated as well as involved in the understanding, and even treatment, of OCD in children. This is also a great topic for a blog post, so thank you for that :)!

  3. katherine querard says:

    i am thrilled to see this. We actually just changed therapists for our 11 year old. While the change was made for number of reasons, one of the primary reasons was because we were actually rebuffed by the former therapist when we asked if we could “assist” in the CBT at home (logically thinking that we spend a lot more time w/our child who suffers from OCD than the therapist). We were told quite emphatically, that “no, that is not a good idea, parent involvement can more often be a detriment to the treatment.”
    Our new therapist agrees with the tenants of this study.

    • Katherine, I am SO glad you had the good sense to know that you should be appropriately involved in your child’s therapy. Good luck as your family moves forward….better days are ahead!

  4. great post,
    ,I am dreaded by the thought of my kids getting OCD. I believe the combination of CBT,ERP and medication (SSRI )works efficiently.


    • Thanks for your comment, and I agree ERP therapy works, as does medication for some people. Whether your children develop OCD or not, if you are there to support, love ,and guide them, that’s the best you can do. Wishing you all the best.

  5. Sue says:

    My daughter started receiving therapy at age 9 and I was in the room with her, learning the same things she was, and also how to best respond to her behavior. She has never been on any medication. She is 15 now and she is not symptom free, but her OCD is manageable. I like to think that it was nipped in the bud before it got too out of control, but maybe we were just lucky (so far) that she has a fairly mild case.

    • Hi Sue, Thanks for sharing your success story, and giving hope to others. How fortunate that you found a good therapist for your daughter early on…. I’m so glad she is doing well.

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