Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is quite prevalent among adolescents and teenagers. OCD symptoms in teens include the presence of unwanted and intrusive thoughts or images. These intrusive thoughts or obsessions will often feel distressing and do not align with a person’s values. In response to these obsessions, individuals will engage in a variety of compulsive behaviours which may include repetitive checking, cleaning,  washing, arranging, praying as well as mental review (e.g., trying to figure out events that happened or didn’t happen). The lifetime prevalence of OCD for both pediatric and adult populations has been found to be 1 to 3 %.

OCD could be a new topic to you as a parent. It is important to understand the presentation of OCD so that you can better understand how to help a teenager with OCD. Early intervention can be important for the recovery process. In this blog, we at the Forward Thinking Psychological Services (FTPS) will share 9 suggestions regarding parenting a teen who is showing symptoms of OCD. 

teen OCD

#1 Allow Open Communication

Your teen needs to be able to discuss what might be bothering them with you. This is true of issues related to school, friendships and mental health. We want our teens to feel comfortable in approaching us, no matter what the situation is. This is often best facilitated by spending time with them in a way they might enjoy. This might involve watching a show with them, going for a walk or taking a drive together. Look for opportunities that are more relaxed for everyone. With the consent of your teen, FTPS mental health clinicians will be able to receive your input for starting treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

#2 Recognize the Nature of Obsessions 

 All individuals experience intrusive thoughts. Research by the late Dr. Jack Rachman illustrated that all individuals, with and without OCD, experience intrusive thoughts with similar content. However, the frequency, intensity and duration of intrusive thoughts often differ. In addition, the interpretation of intrusive thoughts will be much different in both adults and teens with OCD. We often refer to these as “thoughts about the thoughts”. For example, if someone has a thought about stabbing their dog it would be very upsetting, no matter what. However, an individual with symptoms of OCD might also believe that this thought means something about how safe it is to leave them with dogs. They might also believe that they are a “monster”. It is important to recognize that these are difficult thoughts to talk about. 

#3 Recognize the Nature of Rituals and Compulsions 

To an outsider, it can often be challenging to understand the purpose of rituals and compulsions. We might see behaviour that doesn’t always make sense to us. In addition, rituals can occur internally. This means that individuals might be reviewing situations in their minds as they try to reassure themselves. Or, they might be trying to figure out a situation that is causing them distress. It is important to understand that this behaviour is part of the presentation of OCD. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for adolescents helps an individual learn the benefits of stopping their rituals. They will learn skills to lean into anxiety and tolerate discomfort. Parents are also welcome to attend parent coaching sessions and learn how to best support their teen during Exposure and Response Prevention work. We can provide powerful tools for the whole family to overcome this mental health issue.

#4 Provide a Safe Space to Talk to You

Providing a safe and non-judgemental space is critical. If you have noticed behaviours that seem distressing to them, you can let them know that. You can approach your teen with curiosity and compassion. You could start the conversation by saying, “I was wondering if you have been feeling okay. Some of your behaviours seem different to me. Is there anything you want to talk about?” If they seem receptive, you can always relay some behaviours you have noticed. Validation is key. Recognizing this is difficult for them to discuss is important. Our clinicians at Forward Thinking Psychological Services will provide your teenager with the space they need to explore what they have been experiencing.

#5 Help Them To Understand Why Help is Important

Once you have been able to speak with your adolescent about the behaviours you have noticed, you can begin to speak about seeking help. Early intervention is critical. Meeting with a healthcare professional can begin to give your family important information and treatment directions. At Forward Thinking Psychological Services, we will speak with both you and your teen to learn more about what they have been experiencing. Speaking about symptoms can be difficult. But once they learn that professionals understand them, it will be very reassuring. Seeking treatment is a big step towards the path of wellness.

#6 OCD Waxes and Wanes Throughout One’s Life

OCD is typically thought of as waxing and waning throughout one’s lifetime. This means that there will be periods in which symptoms are better and some in which they are worse. This is very similar to other chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and asthma. That being said, there is an excellent treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder available. CBT for adolescents has been found to be highly effective. You can share resources with your teen from well-recognized resources, such as the International OCD Foundation and Anxiety Canada.

#7 Seek OCD Treatment for Teens

CBT has been found to be effective in managing teenage OCD symptoms. 

The impact of experiencing OCD symptoms might include:

  • Distress 
  • Avoidance
  • Repetitive actions
  • Reassurance seeking
  • Challenges with schoolwork
  • Challenges with peers
  • Overall impact on daily living

CBT for teens will help change their relationship with anxiety. They will be able to face things that they usually avoid. They will learn to embrace anxiety and build up their fear tolerance. All of these things will help your teenager and family experience a better overall quality of life. 

#8 Begin CBT Treatment

CBT is a psychotherapeutic approach that comprises the delivery of cognitive and behavioral skills.

Treatment for Obsessive Compulsive disorder in teens will emphasize Exposure and Response Prevention work. It will also incorporate cognitive therapy by allowing your teen to learn to challenge their appraisals and core fears.

CBT for teens will target symptoms of OCD in several ways. During therapy, they will engage in the following interventions:

  • Exposing themselves to things that they fear or avoid
  • Learning not to engage in rituals
  • Setting up realistic goals (achievable)
  • Building up their fear tolerance
  • Challenging their core fears
  • Understanding what matters to them and the importance of this despite experiencing negative thoughts and emotions

It is important to have your teen engaged from the very first appointment. This will allow your teen to receive the best fit therapist.

#9 Set Realistic Expectations

Treatment can sometimes take time. Be patient with yourself and your teen. CBT for teens is all about learning new skills and developing a different relationship with your anxiety. This is an important learning process. As parents, you might also want to engage in parent coaching. This will allow you to provide ERP coaching at home and keep messages consistent with the work being done in therapy. Your teen might also want to meet their therapist at FTPS in the community for different varieties of exposure work. That being said, we mostly work with individuals virtually to allow for enhanced exposure work. This allows for the work to take place in their own home, where many triggers exist. Virtual CBT for OCD has been shown to be very effective. 

Where to find adolescent therapy near me?

Not sure where to begin your teenager’s OCD therapy? Welcome to the FTPS, a collaborative and engaging multidisciplinary team of mental health professionals. We offer a complimentary intake phone screen to ensure we can find the best fit therapist for your family.  You and your teen can also have a complimentary meet and greet with associates until they feel it is a good fit. Our commitment to mental health makes FTPS clinicians ideal for the treatment of many psychological issues

Visit the FTPS website to learn more about our methods, read about our team members, and introduce yourself to our evidence-based unique approaches. We look forward to working with you and your family!