Teens and OCD – Overcoming Fear


Teenagers of various backgrounds in Oslo, Norw...This post originally appeared in November 2012.

I think most people who have spent a lot of time around teenagers would agree they often think and reason differently than adults. Their brains are still developing.

But did you know that it is harder for teens to learn to overcome fear than it is for children and adults?  In this easy-to-understand article on a study conducted at Weill Cornell Medical College, researchers determined that once a teenager’s brain perceives a threat, his or her emotional response remains high even once the threat has been diminished or removed. Teens do not appear to have the same ability as children and adults to suppress their emotional response.

Wow!  As the researchers mention, this finding may help explain the surge in anxiety and stress-related disorders during adolescence; there is a physiological reason why teenagers do not handle stress well. In relation to obsessive-compulsive disorder, I think this information is invaluable. The first thing that comes to my mind is how hard exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy might be for adolescents. This therapy, by its very nature, is anxiety provoking, and now given this new information, it is easy to understand why teens might have an even more difficult time with it. While we know how beneficial it is to receive treatment for OCD as early as possible, we now have another reason why this is so important: children can overcome fear easier than teenagers. Additionally, if an adolescent is having an exceptionally tough time with ERP Therapy, there is reason to hope for more success as he or she enters adulthood and is better able to conquer fear. I’m interested in hearing if these assumptions ring true to those who have OCD.

Researchers have a lot more to explore about the fear response in humans. How does it relate to the plasticity of the brain? How much are genetics involved? Specifically for OCD, how can treatment be modified so that teens can have more success? This study raises a lot of questions. Hopefully more research will find the answers.

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3 Responses to Teens and OCD – Overcoming Fear

  1. Mr. Militant Negro says:

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

  2. ocdtrials says:

    Thank you for this post. This is fascinating–I wish I had known it sooner!
    Also, I wonder if you have ever written about the difference between rational and irrational fears related to OCD? I know some sufferers have irrational fears (Ex: if they don’t tap a door they will drown in an ocean–when they don’t live near an ocean). But then there are more rational fears like a medical worker thinking they will get sick if they don’t wash their hands after touching blood or bacteria (the OCD part comes in with the repeated, excessive washing). I’ve seen some ERP therapists treat the contamination fear by not allowing people to wash AT ALL for a day or some period of time, but in this case, perhaps there is at least a grain of truth in the thought that not washing will carry disease to the person or their family, so not allowing them to wash might not be healthy. What do you think?


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