written by: Keren Perles
• edited by: Diana Cooper
• updated: 10/18/2010
Living successfully with a child who has OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) requires a knowledge of how her disorder affects her everyday life. Read on to get a deeper understanding of OCD in teens, including the treatment options that are available.
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Life for a Teen with OCD
A typical teenager may have low self-esteem, problems managing time, and issues with peers. But OCD in teens can give them additional problems on top of all those. For example, a teen with OCD may have more intense problems with self esteem, feeling that she is worthless or a slave to her obsessions and compulsions. Their routines are often disrupted by their rituals, making it hard for them to get to bed on time, get to school on time, or even get home in time for dinner. They may spend large amounts of emotional and physical energy dealing with their OCD tendencies and hiding them from their peers, which can lead to social isolation and exhaustion. Teens with OCD can also suffer from physical ailments from their disorder, caused mostly by poor nutrition, stress, and inadequate sleep.
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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is viewed as the best therapy for people with OCD, and teens are no exception. The main strategy used by CBT therapists is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which entails presenting the teen with the stimulus of his compulsions and encouraging him to hold back from taking part in the normal rituals. For example, if a teen has compulsions to wash his hands each time after he touches a doorknob, a CBT therapist might have him practice touching a doorknob many times and ignoring the urge to wash his hands. Although at first, the teen may appear terrified to forego his rituals, his anxiety levels will eventually decrease and he will be able to better deal with his OCD tendencies.
Of course, many teens with OCD may not want to take part in CBT. They may feel that their parents are over exaggerating their problems, or they may be loathe to go to a "shrink." They may also feel afraid of the therapy and want to hold onto their rituals. A CBT therapist who is comfortable and experienced with teens should be able to help the teen feel comfortable with the therapy. Be sure to let your teen know the details of the therapy as you know them, creating trust between you and your teen.
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Although kids with OCD can often benefit from therapy, medicines can also help to manage their symptoms. In 2007, Mayo Clinic researchers studied these two forms of managing obsessive compulsive disorder in teens and discovered that OCD in teens is more likely to be controlled with CBT therapy than with medicine. There are other considerations as well when choosing between these two treatments for your teen. Not only can medicines have side effects that therapy does not, they can also make your teen dependent on pills to live a normal life. Therapy, on the other hand, gives your teens lifelong tools to use to manage her disorder.