Family-Based Therapy Helps Children with OCD

family-based therapyResearchers from the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center in Rhode Island have found that family-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is beneficial to children, ages five to eight, who are diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).[1]

“CBT has been established as an effective form of OCD treatments in older children and adolescents, but its effect on young children has not been thoroughly examined,” said Jennifer Freeman, PhD, a staff psychologist at the research center and clinical co-director of the Intensive Program for OCD at Bradley Hospital. “These findings have significant public health implications, as they support the idea that very young children with emerging OCD can benefit from behavioral treatment.”1

The study was conducted at three academic medical centers over a period of five years.1 Researchers studied 127 children with OCD who were between the ages of five and eight.1 Each child was randomly assigned to either family-based CBT with exposure/responsive prevention (EX/RP) or family-based relaxation therapy.1 Both lasted 14 weeks.1

The family-based CBT focused on helping the child and parent(s) understand, manage, and reduce OCD symptoms.1 The strategies included psychoeducation, parenting strategies, and family-based exposure treatment, where children could gradually practice facing feared situations while learning to tolerate the anxious feelings that came with them.1

On the other hand, the family-based relaxation therapy focused on learning about feelings and muscle relaxation strategies in order to lower the child’s anxiety levels.1

At the end of the 14 weeks, 72 percent of the children who received the CBT with EX/RP were found to be much improved, compared with the 41 percent of the children who received the relaxation therapy.1 Historically, the traditional approach for children this young has been to watch and wait; however, this study proves that treatment is available.1

“This study has shown that children with early onset OCD are very much able to benefit from a traditional treatment approach that is uniquely tailored to their developmental needs and family context,” said Freeman. “Family-based EX/RP treatment is effective, tolerable, and acceptable to young children and their families.”1

Researchers hope that family-based CBT with EX/RP will become a first-line treatment for young children who suffer with OCD.1 In fact, an earlier intervention may help to address the chronic issues that many children with OCD have—including the impact on their overall development.1

“The findings from this study support extending downward the age range that can benefit from CBT with EX/RP for pediatric OCD treatment,” said Freeman. “With appropriate parental support, young children with OCD can make significant gains beyond what can be expected from having parents attempt to teach relaxation strategies to their children with OCD.”1

[1] Wood, J. (2014). Family-Based Therapy Found to Help Young Children With OCD. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 6, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/05/06/family-based-therapy-found-to-help-young-children-with-ocd/69479.html

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