Finding the Right Therapist for Your Child or Teen with OCD: A Guide for Parents

Finding the Right Therapist for Your Child or Teen with OCD: A Guide for Parents

Parents play a crucial role in helping children cope with mental health challenges, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  When seeking treatment for OCD, it is essential to find a therapist who specializes in evidence-based approaches, particularly Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).  Read on to learn: a) what ERP is, b) why it is vital for effective OCD treatment, and c) questions to ask potential therapists to ensure that they are well versed and experienced in the best psychotherapeutic approach for treating OCD.

Understanding Exposure and Response Prevention

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically designed for individuals with OCD.  It is used across the lifespan for the treatment of children, adolescents and adults.  The approach focuses on exposing individuals to their feared obsessions or “intrusive thoughts” (exposure) and preventing them from engaging in compulsive behaviors or rituals (response prevention) that serve to mitigate the anxiety brought on by the obsessions.  By gradually confronting their obsessional thoughts and feared situations, while resisting the urge to perform compulsions, individuals with OCD reduce their overall anxiety and decrease the impact of obsessions and compulsions on their daily lives.

Why ERP Matters

  • Specificity: OCD is a complex disorder, and general anxiety treatment methods are not as effective.  ERP targets the core symptoms of OCD directly, making it the most recommended and evidenced-based treatment for OCD.
  • Experience: Therapists who are well trained and experienced in ERP tend to have a deeper understanding of OCD and its treatment.  They have honed their skills through working with various types of OCD cases, enabling them to tailor therapy to meet the unique needs of each child or teenager.
  • Gradual Progression: ERP is often challenging and requires a delicate balance between pushing the client out of their comfort zone, while also not pushing too hard.  Therapists experienced with ERP can guide children and teenagers through a scaffolded gradual exposure hierarchy, ensuring progress while maintaining their safety, well-being, and willingness to continue.
  • Treatment Fidelity: ERP requires a structured and systematic approach.  Therapists who are well versed in ERP are more likely to ensure that therapy follows evidence-based practices, is flexible to the needs of the individual client and ultimately yield better outcomes.
  • Empathy and Support: OCD can be very distressing, and it is crucial for therapists to provide a compassionate and understanding environment.  Experienced ERP therapists are better equipped to support individuals with OCD through the challenges they face during treatment.
  • What is your experience in treating OCD, and what approach do you use? If the therapist does not mention ERP (exposure and response prevention therapy), you may want to consider finding a different therapist that has that expertise.
  • Can you explain the basic principles of ERP and how it differs from general anxiety treatment or CBT for anxiety?
  • Will you work with me (the parent) as well?
  • What is your approach when a child or teen encounters difficulties or setbacks during ERP?
  • How do you involve a child or teen in the treatment decision making process?

When seeking therapy for a child or teenager with OCD, look for one who is both approachable and well versed in ERP.  By asking the right questions, you can ensure that they choose a therapist who can provide the truly specialized care that your child or teen deserves. Remember, with the right therapist, your child or teen can turn the volume way down on their OCD and turn the volume way up on other important (and much more fun) areas of their life!