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Teen OCD Treatment Programs

Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions, and one of the hardest to live with. In the long-term, a person’s OCD can develop into lifelong debilitating habits that hinder day-to-day living, make employment difficult, and can even affect close relationships.

OCD is a mental disorder and a behavioral condition and is characterized by two distinct mental hurdles: intrusive, unwanted obsessions, and unreasonable, ritualistic compulsions.

Both of these are fueled by intense fear and discomfort, which is why OCD is an anxiety disorder. While most people know about OCD in the form of excessive cleanliness or a need for symmetry, it can come in many different shapes and forms, and differs in severity.

Most people do not have OCD. Finding symmetry pleasant is natural and wanting things to follow a pattern or remain in a sequential order is normal. If you feel the urge to realign something that has been knocked out of place, it is not due to your OCD or perfectionism – unless that urge overpowers you to the point that trying to fight itleaves you panicked, uncomfortable, sweaty, and even nauseous.

Teens with OCD struggle with their obsessions to the point that they need to rely on their compulsions as the only short-term “solution”, which creates a vicious cycle – because as soon as an obsession is satiated, it quickly sets in again.

Not all symptoms of OCD strictly follow the obsession and compulsion cycle. Some compulsive behavior becomes intrusive in its own right –such as needing to open and close the door a specific number of times or checking the locks at home in a certain order each time. Failing to adhere to strict rituals and numbers can cause distress, and extreme discomfort.

Signs of Teen OCD

Signs of major OCD in teens differ from one case to the next – some compulsions are rarer than others, and some obsessions and intrusive thoughts take on very specific or niche fears.

As a general rule, it’s important to remember that OCD is set apart from other anxiety disorders by the fact that it contains both unwanted and irrational patterns of thinking, and compulsive, often ritualistic behavior. These two are often linked, but do not need to be. Both of these major symptoms are intensely distressing andengaging in compulsions in particular can help alleviate or temporarily eliminate the distress. Other important signs of OCD might include:

  • OCD usually follows a theme. For example, some people have intense obsessions and compulsions around germs, and the concept of contamination. For others, it’s sin, or religious impurity.
  • OCD grows and wanes in severity. While some cases are inherently more severe than others, OCD becomes more or less invasive in a person’s life depending on their life stressors. A teen approaching the midterms or headed to college will be more likely to struggle with OCD than when they’re at the most relaxed, in the easiest semesters of school life, or during the summer break.
  • OCD cannot be controlled. Treatments can help give a teen the tools they need – in addition to plenty of support – to help contend with some of their irrational thoughts and distract themselves from the distress they experience while ignoring or fighting back against an inner impulse. Depending on certain co-occurring mental health issues, such as a generalized anxiety disorder, certain medications can help as well.
  • OCD can include verbal or physical tics. Teens with OCD are more likely to fidget or fixate on physical objects or play with something like a key or a watch. They are more likely to exhibit behavioral tics, like grunts, sniffing, sneezes, head jerking, and specific movements. These can become more intense if they feel distress and are trying not to give in to a compulsion.
  • While performing a ritual behavior can help alleviate the stress associated with their OCD, it does not give them pleasure. It distinctly feels like a burden, and a problem. Teens and adults with OCD are often aware that they have OCD.

Types of Obsessions and Compulsions

Obsessions and compulsions can come in a surprisingly varied number of forms. Most people know about compulsions centered around cleaning, germaphobia, and symmetry. But other obsessive themes and compulsive symptoms include:

Violent obsessions:

  • Fear of acting on a violent impulse towards a loved one.
  • Intrusive horrific images of violence.
  • Fear of harming oneself.

Sexual obsessions:

  • Fear of being a pedophile.
  • Fear of sexually harming a relative.
  • Fear of becoming sexually violent towards others.

Religious or moral obsessions:

  • Fear of offending God or being religiously condemned.
  • Obsession with morality.

Existential and Identity obsessions:

  • Obsessively worrying about one’s gender expression or sexual preference.
  • Intense fear and obsessions with existence, death, and the greater mystery of life.
  • Fear of losing grip on one’s personality or worrying that one’s personality traits are “copied” or simply acted out.

Treating OCD in Teens

Overcoming OCD is no easy thing. Exposure therapy, in which a teen works with a therapist to slowly ignore their compulsions and address the things that trigger an obsession, can be used to work up to a stronger level of tolerance to the distress and discomfort that OCD causes. Over time, therapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy can successfully help train a teen to ignore and replace intrusive and irrational thoughts with a more sensible thought.

But like many other behavioral disorders, it can be a lifelong struggle. Familial support and a strict treatment plan are needed to turn severe OCD into milder symptoms, and help teens regain a sense of normalcy and freedom in their day-to-day life. Stress management is key as well – as an anxiety disorder, OCD peaks and grows in intensity as a person becomes more stressed out and failing to address these stressors can result in a relapse of symptoms, and stronger symptoms.

Our residential treatment at the Arrow House can help teens begin their long-term journey towards managing and overcoming their OCD symptoms, andenjoying a greater quality of life.