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OCD is extremely frustrating for teens. Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via

OCD is extremely frustrating for teens.
Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via

  1. What is OCD?OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It causes someone to feel a lot of anxiety.  Usually the cause of anxiety is over something improbable.  The anxious feeling is so strong that someone has ritualistic behavior to get rid of the anxiety.  The problem is, the anxiety returns over and over again, so the person spends lots of time doing rituals to manage the anxiety.
  2. Can you give an examples of OCD?The form of OCD you are probably most familiar with is “contamination OCD.”  This is where someone feels an icky feeling on their skin when they are exposed to a perceived contaminant.  If someone feels contaminated by germs then they might feel disgusting after touching a bathroom door handle.  The feeling will be so unbearable that it can only be relieved by hand-washing.  Other forms of contaminants I’ve seen in my therapy office have been sweat, chemical cleaning products, raw foods, dirt, and dirty laundry.  The associated compulsions have been taking a shower multiple times per day, excessive wiping of counters and surfaces, hand washing until hands are cracked and dry, or scrubbing vigorously with a shower scrubby until the skin bleeds and rashes.

    OCD can take the form of needing perfect symmetry.  I have worked with adolescents who felt a shudder of anxiety when things are not in their proper symmetrical order.  If someone touches them on their right shoulder their compulsion is to immediately touch their own left shoulder.  The problem is, sometimes they don’t get it just right, and have to repeat the touching on both shoulders until it feels perfectly symmetrical.  One girl struggled with the symmetry of writing on her papers for school.  If the paper didn’t seem to be very well balanced with how the words looked on the page she would throw it away and start again.

    OCD can take many different forms.  The most important thing a therapist is looking for is to see whether there are obsessive thoughts followed by ritualistic compulsions to control those thoughts.  Sometimes the obsessive thought is an intrusive thought.  One example would be a repeated image of the house burning down.  The compulsion might be to meticulously and repeatedly inspect all the places where gas can be turned on (i.e. the stoves, barbecue, water heater, etc.).

  3. How do you deal with OCD?Research has shown two therapies to be most effective for OCD.  Either can help on its own, but research shows it is most effective when they are done together.  The first form of treatment shown to be effective is called Exposure and Response Prevention.  This is what we do at Teen Therapy OC.  It means we help your teenager make a list of obsessions and related compulsions.  Starting from least frightening and working our way up from there, we help your teen face the things that make them uncomfortable.  If your teenager is anxious about things being out of place we might hang a picture crooked and have them stare at it until the anxiety goes away.  At first that will take some time, but after repeated exposures it becomes easier.

    The second is getting medication from a psychiatrist.  Some parents don’t like the idea of medication for their teens, and many of my clients choose to try treatment without it before seeing a psychiatrist.  Every case is different and recommendations and whether medication should be part of treatment are easier to make after the initial evaluation.


Living with OCD is miserable and very time consuming.  For adolescents who struggle with this it can be hard to keep friends, and hard to keep up with homework.  It is overwhelming and frustrating.  It feels like a trap.  Let us help your child get their life back.  Call us to talk about how we can help you help your teen get better.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT