What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can impact both adults, adolescents and children. Treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder is very important to access. A study conducted in 2018 revealed the prevalence of OCD being diagnosed in Canada was close to 1% (0.93%). This is a significant portion of the population. 

According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5R), there are specific symptoms that individuals with OCD will experience. When these symptoms become interfering, you might want to consider seeking treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder. Individuals experiencing OCD often have symptoms that fall under various subtypes. This is based on the presence of particular obsessions and compulsions. During OCD therapy, people learn psychoeducation regarding OCD symptoms and anxiety. You will also learn what can keep these symptoms going. 

When obsessions and/or compulsions are time consuming and lead to frequent disruption in one’s daily functioning, you should consider seeking an assessment from a healthcare professional for yourself or your loved one. This can help everyone to better understand the symptoms. It will also allow you to understand whether treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder might be beneficial. Only a qualified healthcare professional (for example, a psychologist or psychiatrist) can make a diagnosis of OCD.

There are different intrusive thoughts that one might experience within the context of OCD. These include:

  • Contamination or germ-related obsessions (e.g., thinking objects are “dirty” and “contaminated” with germs or toxins)
  • Harm-related intrusive thoughts (e.g., having thoughts of harming or injuring loved ones)
  • Symmetry or ordering obsessions (e.g., needing to line up objects in a certain way or according to specific criteria)
  • Sexual-intrusive thoughts (e.g., having or fearing thoughts related to pedophilia or sexual orientation)
  • “Just right” intrusive thoughts (e.g., needing to complete actions in a certain way until it “feels just right”)

In response to these obsessions, individuals develop a variety of compulsions. These may include:

  • Cleaning or washing compulsions (e.g., cleaning items over and over again until one is satisfied that is is completely clean)
  • Mental review or “figuring it out” compulsions (e.g., reviewing thoughts or events in the hopes of reassuring oneself)
  • Checking compulsions (e.g., checking over what one has read or what one has written)
  • Reassurance-seeking or confessing “bad thoughts” (e.g., confessing OCD-related thoughts to a loved one in the hopes they will provide reassurance)
  • Organizing or carrying things out in a way that feels “perfect”
  • Moving or completing tasks in a way that allows the “just right” feeling to be achieved

However, the list above is not exhaustive and OCD can really be about anything and everything! It is best to check in with a qualified healthcare professional to better understand what is going on if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. They can also help you to understand whether you might need treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder.

Why Does Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Occur?

As with most mental health disorders, research has shown us that there are both biological and environmental factors at play in the development of OCD. And the research is complex and evolving. We don’t have a solid answer in terms of being able to definitely say why OCD develops. And even when some of these things (described below) might exist – from a biological or genetic predisposition – it does not always mean that OCD will develop in that individual.

The International OCD Foundation describes several reasons why OCD might develop. For example, it has been found that OCD may involve parts of the brain not communicating well with each other. Specifically, the front of the brain and structures that are found within deeper areas of the brain. The structures that have been implicated in OCD use a neurotransmitter to communicate. This is called serotonin and acts as a chemical messenger between different brain structures. 

Interesting research has examined images of the brains of people with and without OCD. Some of the earlier studies on this found two prominent brain areas being more active in individuals with OCD. Specifically, these are the orbitofrontal cortex (at the very front of the brain) and the caudate nucleus. The latter is a structure deep within the brain and is part of what is called the basal ganglia. With decades of further research, other brain areas have become implicated as well. And, of course, the overall picture of brain activity can be complex! However, the interesting point is that some functional abnormalities do seem to exist in individuals with OCD and they likely play a role in symptoms experienced.

It is important to note that some research has found that these brain areas can begin to change following medications that can impact serotonin as well as treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder. The treatment shown to impact this is cognitive behaviour therapy, usually with an emphasis on exposure and response prevention therapy. This is a gold standard intervention in treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder.

We also know that OCD does tend to emerge in members of the same family. This suggests that genes likely play a role in how OCD develops. In many instances of mental health, genes do not account for the entire reason that a disorder has developed. It is unknown all the different factors that are involved in the development of complex mental health issues. 

In order to engage in successful treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder you do not have to know what caused your OCD symptoms to develop. Instead, CBT, with a focus on exposure and response prevention therapy, looks at what is involved in the maintenance of your OCD symptoms. 

Treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how teachers can help

What Does OCD Look Like in Students?

The symptoms of OCD are very similar in adolescents as in adults. OCD in the classroom can take on a number of different behaviours. Some of these behaviours can be more subtle than others. And not all of them would be noticeable. For example, if an individual has OCD-related thoughts regarding needing to feel “just right”, this might emerge in the classroom setting. A student might engage in reading and re-reading until they feel they completed it “just right”. They might also write and rewrite things repeatedly.

Students might also read things repeatedly until they feel they know everything perfectly. This might only be noticed by the fact that an individual is taking a longer time to complete tasks than their peers. These types of OCD-related thoughts can also interfere with concentration and attention. 

Students might also experience contamination-related OCD thoughts within the school environment. This could result in them keeping their distance from other people so they don’t have to touch anyone. They might avoid sharing pencils or other objects for fear of being “contaminated” but someone else’s germs. They might also experience disgust when they are forced to be close to other people, the garbage or share something in school. This can result in avoidance behaviours or absenteeism from school. 

Students might also experience excessive doubting with respect to their performance and interactions. This might result in frequent reassurance seeking from teachers as well as classmates. This might be interfering with learning in the classroom. It can also impact the development of friendships and socialization. 

 Thus, OCD in the classroom can certainly be seen in a variety of different behaviours. When these behaviours are seen, it might be a sign that OCD therapy would be helpful. Treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder would focus on better understanding these behaviours, coaching individuals to gradually decrease them and better understand the core fears driving these behaviours.

How Can Teachers Support Students With OCD in the Classroom?

It can be important for teachers to think about how best to support students with OCD in the classroom. Although these strategies would not be a substitute for treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder, they can help students to excel in the classroom environment. Here are some strategies that can be useful for teachers to consider:

  • Obtain knowledge about OCD and how this might appear in a student within one’s classroom. An excellent resource on this can be found in the International OCD Foundation
  • Keeping in contact with parents is very important. If the child or adolescent is obtaining treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder, they are likely working on overcoming things they avoid or experience with distress. This is usually in the context of exposure therapy and can be very important to learn more about
  • If mental health professionals are involved, reach out to them and learn more
  • Work out a monitoring system with the parents and child to allow behaviours to be assessed and successes to be rewarded

Teachers can also support students through an Individual Education Plan (IEP) with OCD as an identified diagnosis. The IEP will have some recommended accommodations. This might include allowing more time for tests and assignments, use of assistive technology or the ability to demonstrate their proficiency in different types of assessment.

It is important that academic accommodations do not enable OCD behaviours. For example, providing a student with more time could actually allow for an individual to engage in rituals, such as re-reading or re-writing. Nevertheless, it is important for individuals to feel well supported with respect to mental health. In addition, the added pressure of an assignment or exam might increase the stress an individual is feeling, which can also increase the intensity of OCD symptoms. 

Teachers can also become more creative in their assessment style. An individual who gets stuck re-writing might do very well during an oral assessment. Alternate assessments can be discussed between the teacher and the family. If an individual is engaging in treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder, school-related behaviours can also be incorporated into treatment planning.

All of these strategies can be highly beneficial for an individual experiencing symptoms of OCD. Finally, with permission from the family, mental health difficulties can be discussed within the classroom in a safe space. This can allow the individual to feel less stigma and more support within the school environment.

Where Can I Get Help for My Teen with OCD?

Does FTPS provide OCD treatment near me? If you are interested in treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder, we offer virtual therapy in Ontario for OCD. We also provide in-person OCD treatment, as needed. These are great things to talk about with our team!

How do our services work? These are all the services we offer to get you started at FTPS for the best treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder possible.

  • We always offer a free intake call with our intake coordinator who knows about OCD and will ask you important questions to understand what you are looking for
  • We will provide you with the opportunity to meet with an associate for a 30-minute no charge meet and greet. This provides you with an opportunity to speak with an associate, learn about their approach and ask all the questions you have
  • You can ask all the questions you have about treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder during your session with your therapist
  • If the initial associate you met with is not a good match for you, you can meet with another associate – free of charge! 
  • Browse through our website and learn about the profiles of all our team members
  • Talk to the intake team about who feels like a good fit. We will have suggestions as well, based on our experiences with the therapist-matching process

Reach out to us at Forward Thinking Psychological Services™. We are ready to work with you and your loved ones on symptoms of OCD. We use evidence-based treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder. That allows you to be confident that we are using treatment with proven effectiveness. We will bring you closer to a life that is of value to you. We look forward to hearing from you!

DISCLAIMER: This content is meant for informational and educational purposes only. Only a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose a mental health disorder. The content of this website is not meant to be a substitute for therapy. Visiting this website should not be considered to be equivalent to a relationship with FTPS. Mental health concerns should only be discussed in the context of providing professional services after the consent process has been completed with a qualified FTPS associate outside of our website.