Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health condition that often begins in childhood. The illness causes children to develop fears, thoughts, and feelings that bring anxiety. These are known medically as “obsessions.” Common obsessions may include a fear that an object or place is dirty or infested with germs, worries about illness and dying, concerns about whether or not items are correctly organized, and thoughts that certain objects, numbers, or words may be unlucky. To control their obsessions, children engage in ritualistic, repetitive behaviors known as “compulsions.” These can include washing their hands more than 100 times a day, counting to a certain number and skipping unlucky numbers, checking locks on doors for up to an hour each day, praying the same prayer a certain number of times, and touching an object a set number of times or in a particular way.
Since obsessive-compulsive disorder can sometimes be triggered by strep throat or other infections, it’s important that patients exhibiting signs of the disorder be seen by their physicians for a physical examination. If no infections or other underlying medical causes can be found, children should be referred to a child psychologist or psychiatrist. These professionals can diagnose obsessive-compulsive disorder through interviewing the child and his or her family members.
Many patients and their families often feel a sense of relief once a diagnosis has been confirmed, and they then begin to focus on treatment. Treatment for this condition typically involves a combination of counseling and medication. For patients with mild forms of the ailment, medication is not always necessary. If a psychiatrist or other prescribing healthcare professional determines that medication is in the best interest of the patient, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically the first medications that are recommended. Examples of these drugs include Prozac, Zoloft, and Luvox. Children taking these medications should be closely monitored by their healthcare team at regular intervals. Monitoring appointments typically take place every three months, and the child and parents will be asked about any changes in the child’s physical or mental health, including mood swings, depression, and anxiety. Any side effects that occur should be brought to the attention of the prescribing physician, and alternative medications may be available to minimize or eliminate certain side effects.
The counseling portion of treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder usually focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy involves helping patients and their families learn to change their thought processes and adopt healthier behaviors. Therapists support and guide patients through a systematic process that slowly reduces their need to perform rituals and repetitive behavior. Patients learn coping mechanisms that allow them to resist the urge to do rituals. Parents learn to support their children at home by responding appropriately if children do engage in rituals. They also become instrumental in helping them redirect their energy away from ritualistic behavior, gradually breaking the cycle of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
At Mount Vernon Counseling Center, we have compassionate and experienced staff who work with children and their families as they recover from this disorder. If you have been impacted by obsessive-compulsive disorder, we would be honored to support you throughout the treatment process.