OCD Chicago

Your Child Can Get Better With Effective Treatment
Information for Parents

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy makes use of two evidence-based behavior-altering techniques—Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (ERP) and Cognitive Therapy.  You should look for a therapist who is experienced in treating children and teens with this therapy.

In Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, the therapist conducts a series of controlled ERP sessions.  This special therapy puts your child in situations in which he or she is exposed, one at a time, to the obsessions that they have and are gradually prevented from performing the compulsions that temporarily ease the accompanying anxiety.

For example, if your child has an obsessive fear of germs, a therapist conducting ERP therapy may work with the child to encourage touching a doorknob that the child believes is contaminated.  Then the child will be coached to wait longer and longer to wash his or her hands.  This gradual exposure and delayed response helps the child learn to control the response.  Over time, the child learns to respond differently to the fear or thoughts about germs, which would actually lead to a decrease in the frequency and intensity of the obsession.

How It Works

When therapeutic exposures are repeated over time, the associated anxiety shrinks until it is barely noticeable or even fades entirely.  There is no way to predict exactly how long it will take for your child to gain control over the persistent thoughts or fears that must be overcome.  But the process works because of “habituation”.

Through a series of sessions, the therapist guides the child to take on more challenging exposures until even the most difficult obsessions and compulsions become manageable.  The child loses the automatic fear response to the obsessions, which leads to the very important realization that nothing bad happens when they stop performing compulsive rituals.

Every child is different, so the therapist will design a program that fits the symptoms and circumstances of the child and the family.  In most cases, children and young adults are scheduled for outpatient sessions once or twice a week with “homework” that must be completed daily at home between sessions.

In addition to ERP therapy, the therapist may help the child learn certain new ways of thinking through cognitive therapy.  This is how a child is able to understand that the brain is “playing a trick” on them, so they can manage the urges to do compulsive acts.

CBT and ERP treatment may seem unusual.  You may even think they won’t work, or that you’ve already tried to help your child resist their compulsions, without much success. But with the right therapist, and given time and support, Cognitive Behavior Therapy has helped many thousands of children control their OCD.

Rarely, and only in special circumstances, is hospitalization needed (such as the most severe of OCD cases, if a child may be trying to harm himself or others, when multiple anxiety disorders may be present that require extended observation and treatment, if medication reactions need to be closely monitored or if a suicide attempt has been made).

Not all mental health professionals are trained in ERP therapy, so it’s important to find one who is.  OCD Chicago can help you find a treatment provider.

Read personal stories of CBT success

How to choose a therapist

Back to Helping A Child Who Has OCD