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.