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OCD Treatment for Teens and Young Adults

It can be challenging to live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but we know that with evidence-based treatment, obsessions and compulsions don’t have to rule your life. Fill out the short form below, or give us a call, to start healing from OCD today with Charlie Health.

What are the best therapy options for OCD treatment? 

Exposure and responsive prevention (ERP) therapy 

ERP is a cornerstone of OCD treatment

It systematically exposes people with OCD to situations, thoughts, or images that trigger their obsessions or anxiety while preventing them from engaging in their usual compulsive behaviors or rituals. 

The key principle of ERP is to help people confront their fears and obsessions directly rather than trying to avoid or neutralize them through compulsive actions. 

As people repeatedly face these anxiety-provoking situations without performing their rituals, their anxiety naturally diminishes, and they gain control over their obsessive thoughts and compulsions. 

This type of OCD treatment rewires the brain to learn that it can tolerate the discomfort caused by obsessions without needing to engage in compulsive behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used and evidence-based psychotherapy approach and OCD treatment based on the principle that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected. CBT is rooted in goal-setting and skills-building and can be used in individual or group therapy settings. 

By modifying negative thought patterns and replacing them with more rational and constructive ones, people with OCD can improve their emotional well-being and functioning. 

In CBT, people learn to identify specific thought patterns or beliefs that contribute to their obsessions and compulsions. They then learn strategies and techniques to challenge and reframe these thoughts and actions, leading to more positive emotions and healthier behaviors. 

Acceptance and commitment therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) emphasizes accepting your thoughts, feelings, and sensations rather than trying to eliminate or suppress them. 

ACT is based on the idea that struggling against or avoiding painful experiences and thoughts can lead to further stress and heightened symptoms of mental health issues such as OCD. 

As an OCD treatment, ACT helps people learn how to embrace their obsessions and compulsions as simply part of their human experiences (as opposed to being negative or “wrong.”)

ACT helps people identify their core values and commit to actions that align with those values, even in the presence of their obsession and compulsions. ACT also incorporates mindfulness techniques to increase awareness of the present moment and encourage people with OCD to detach from the unhelpful thought patterns contributing to their obsessions and compulsions. 

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How is OCD diagnosed? 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is typically diagnosed through a comprehensive assessment conducted by mental health professionals. 

The process begins with a detailed clinical interview, where the client discusses their symptoms, thoughts, and behaviors. 

To confirm the diagnosis, clinicians rely on specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which include the presence of obsessions and compulsions and their prevalence. 

Additionally, clinicians may use standardized questionnaires and psychological tests to gather more information about the severity and impact of OCD symptoms on daily life. 

A young woman who's recently been diagnosed with OCD sits on a window ledge staring outside

How does Charlie Health treat obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Our clinical team has ERP-trained therapists who specialize in the individual and group treatment of OCD. We host regular training sessions and ongoing education opportunities for our clinicians and care team members to stay up-to-date on the latest clinical best practices and treatment trends for OCD.

At the highest level, OCD is an anxiety disorder. At Charlie Health, our individualized treatment plans for anxiety disorders are effective because we can consider and incorporate each client’s specific needs into their treatment plan.

Our clinical team recognizes that OCD is often a manifestation of something larger going on in a   client’s life – unresolved trauma, childhood attachment issues, or chronic loneliness, for example. That’s why our curriculum is rooted in trauma-informed care, regardless of clinical diagnoses. 

We believe that treating the roots of complex mental health issues, such as OCD, creates long-term, sustainable healing. 

In their words

Client & family testimonials

Teen

“I now have the resources and skills I need to leave my house.”

I have dealt with severe anxiety my whole life. It didn’t start affecting me until this past year when I developed agoraphobia, which led to me being fully home-bound. I was depressed that I was missing out on everyday teen things, and anxious every time I thought about leaving my home. It wasn’t until I started going to groups at Charlie Health that I started to gain the confidence to start exposure therapy and begin my recovery journey. In only 3 months of being at Charlie Health, I was able to go on a 7-hour car ride with my family. After Charlie Health, I now have the resources and skills I need to leave my house and feel comfortable to be a functioning member of society.

—Charlie Health Alum

Teen

“Sharing with other people my age in group therapy made me realize a lot.”

Before I was in Charlie Health, I had struggled with really bad anxiety and on-and-off depression. But throughout treatment, sharing with other people my age in group therapy made me realize a lot. Including that I can love myself if others don’t and that I don’t have to be scared of everything. I really appreciate everyone who has helped me here at Charlie Health.

—Charlie Health Alum

Young Adult

“It has honestly been a lifesaver…I love it here.”

I was unsure if I wanted to go back to therapy, but I knew I needed it as my social anxiety was going haywire almost every single day and my depression was getting worse. I couldn’t find a therapist within my city that had availability or took my insurance, but then my psychiatrist suggested Charlie Health. I figured out they could help me and work around my schedule at work and school. It has honestly been a lifesaver and I am so happy that I continued with the process of showing up and working through my struggles within group and individual therapy sessions. I love it here, and if I ever need to come back, I will.

—Jazmyn

What are the challenges of treating OCD?

Treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be challenging for several reasons:

  • Complexity of symptoms
  • Resistance to treatment: Some individuals with OCD may be resistant to treatment, either due to a lack of insight into their condition or because they are reluctant to confront their fears and engage in ERP.
  • Co-morbid conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, or eating disorders: Treating OCD in the presence of these co-morbid conditions can complicate the therapeutic process.
  • Time and commitment: Effective OCD treatment, especially ERP therapy, can be time-consuming and emotionally challenging.
  • Medication challenges: While medication can be helpful for OCD, finding the right medication and dosage may take time, and side effects can be a challenge.
  • Stigma and shame: Many individuals with OCD experience shame or embarrassment about their symptoms, which can hinder their willingness to seek help and engage in treatment.
  • Limited access to specialized care: Access to qualified therapists who specialize in OCD and ERP therapy may be limited in some regions and for certain populations.

FAQs

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic and sometimes debilitating mental health condition characterized by the presence of obsessions and compulsions. 

What are obsessions?

Obsessions are intrusive, unwanted, and distressing thoughts, images, or urges that repeatedly enter a person’s mind, causing anxiety and discomfort. 

Examples of obsessions include: 

  • An intense need for things to be symmetrical or “just right,” resulting in distress when things are perceived as uneven or asymmetrical
  • Persistent thoughts or mental images of harming oneself or others, even though there’s no actual intent or desire to do so
  • Fear of germs, dirt, or contamination, leading to intrusive thoughts about illness or contamination from everyday objects or surfaces
  • Unwanted and distressing thoughts or images that are violent, sexual, or taboo in nature and go against an individual’s values
  • Excessive preoccupation with religious or moral matters, including fears of committing sinful or morally wrong acts

What are compulsions?

Compulsions, on the other hand, are repetitive behaviors or mental acts performed in response to the obsessions, often with the aim of reducing the anxiety or preventing a feared event. Compulsions are often excessive and not connected in a realistic way to the feared event. 

Examples of compulsions include:

  • Repeating specific words, phrases, or actions a certain number of times, often to reduce anxiety or prevent harm
  • Repeatedly checking locks, appliances, or other items to ensure they are secure or safe, even when there is no realistic danger
  • Excessive handwashing, cleaning, or sanitizing in response to fears of contamination or illness
  • The need to arrange items or objects in a specific order or pattern, and discomfort or anxiety when things are not arranged “correctly”
  • Engaging in mental rituals, such as silently praying, counting, or repeating phrases in one’s head to neutralize distressing thoughts
  • Excessive acquisition and unwillingness to discard items (sometimes referred to as “hoarding), even if those objects have little or no value and lead to clutter and stress

If left untreated, OCD can significantly interfere with a person’s daily life, leading to impaired functioning, strained relationships, reduced quality of life, and the potential exacerbation of other mental health issues. 

What are the main signs and symptoms of OCD?

  • Obsessions:
    • Recurrent and intrusive thoughts or images that cause distress
    • Fear of contamination (e.g., germs, dirt)
    • Disturbing, aggressive, or violent thoughts
    • Excessive concern with order, symmetry, or exactness
    • Fear of harming others or being responsible for harm
  • Compulsions:
    • Repetitive behaviors or mental acts performed to reduce distress or prevent a feared event
    • Examples include handwashing, checking locks or appliances, counting, or repeating specific phrases silently
    • These behaviors are often not connected to the feared event in a realistic way
  • Interference in daily life:
    • The obsessions and compulsions significantly interfere with daily functioning, such as work, school, or relationships
    • Individuals may spend a considerable amount of time each day on these thoughts and rituals
  • Distress and anxiety:
    • The obsessions and compulsions cause marked distress, anxiety, or discomfort
    • Individuals often recognize that their thoughts and behaviors are excessive or irrational, but they feel compelled to continue them
  • Avoidance:
    • Avoidance of situations or triggers that may provoke obsessions or compulsions
  • Resistance:
    • Attempts to resist or suppress the obsessions or compulsions may be unsuccessful and can lead to increased distress
  • Impact on quality of life:
    • OCD can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life, leading to impaired social relationships, work or school performance, and overall well-being

It’s important to note that OCD symptoms can vary widely from person to person, and individuals may not experience all of these symptoms. Additionally, some people with OCD may have primarily obsessions or primarily compulsions, while others have a combination of both.

Diagnosis and treatment should be conducted by qualified mental health professionals specializing in OCD to address the specific needs of each individual.

How common is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is not uncommon and is estimated to affect a significant portion of the population. In the United States, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that approximately 1.2% of adults will experience OCD in their lifetime. This suggests that millions of people in the U.S. alone are affected by OCD at some point in their lives.

At what age is OCD typically diagnosed?

OCD can start in childhood, and it’s estimated that about 25% to 30% of individuals with OCD experience symptoms before the age of 18. These symptoms are not always recognized as OCD, and they can manifest differently in children than adults. Common childhood OCD themes include contamination fears, excessive checking, and fears of harm to loved ones.

OCD symptoms may also emerge during adolescence. This is when many mental health conditions become more apparent as individuals face increased social, academic, and personal pressures.

Are there risk factors or causes associated with OCD?

Genetics: There is evidence to suggest that genetics plays a role in developing OCD. Individuals with a family history of OCD or related disorders like Tourette’s syndrome or hoarding disorder may have a higher risk of developing OCD themselves.

Brain structure and function: Abnormalities in certain brain areas, particularly the frontal cortex and the basal ganglia, have been implicated in OCD. These brain regions are involved in regulating thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.

Neurotransmitters: An imbalance in the neurotransmitter serotonin, as well as other brain chemicals, is thought to contribute to OCD symptoms. 

Life events and stress: Stressful life events, trauma, or major life changes can trigger the onset or exacerbation of OCD symptoms. Stress can exacerbate existing symptoms or make individuals more susceptible to developing OCD.

Personality traits: Certain personality traits, such as high levels of perfectionism, anxiety sensitivity, or a need for control, may be associated with a higher risk of developing OCD.

How long does OCD treatment take?

The duration of OCD treatment can vary significantly from person to person and depends on several factors, including the specific symptoms, the treatment approach used and response to treatment, and the commitment to the therapeutic process. Here are some key considerations:

  • Severity of OCD: Individuals with mild to moderate OCD symptoms may require a shorter duration of treatment, while those with severe or long-standing OCD may need a more extended and intensive treatment course.
  • Type of treatment: The primary treatments for OCD are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), particularly Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and medication (typically SSRIs). CBT, including ERP, is often delivered over a set number of sessions, which can range from 12 to 20 sessions or more. Medication treatment can be ongoing.
  • Individual progress: Some individuals may respond well to treatment relatively quickly and experience significant symptom reduction within a few months, while others may take longer to see substantial improvements.
  • Consistency and commitment: The individual’s level of commitment to treatment and their willingness to actively engage in therapeutic exercises and homework assignments can influence the treatment duration. Regular attendance and active participation are essential.
  • Medication considerations: If medication is prescribed, it can take several weeks or even a few months for SSRIs to reach their full therapeutic effect. Adjustments to medication dosage may be needed during this time.
  • Relapse prevention: Even after initial symptom improvement, it’s important to continue treatment for a period to work on relapse prevention strategies and ensure long-term stability.
  • Individual goals: The treatment duration may also depend on the individual’s treatment goals. Some individuals may aim to achieve complete symptom remission, while others may focus on managing and reducing the impact of OCD symptoms on daily life.

The duration of OCD treatment can vary from several months to a year or more, and in some cases, ongoing maintenance treatment may be recommended to prevent symptom relapse. The key is to seek help from qualified mental health professionals who specialize in OCD and develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to the individual’s needs.

OCD treatment at Charlie Health

We specialize in helping people with complex mental health issues – including obsessive-compulsive disorder – find healing within a personalized treatment program. 

Our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is designed for teens and young adults who require more than once-weekly therapy and who are looking to connect with peers facing similar mental health struggles. We employ the leading evidence-based clinical practices along with mindfulness, creative arts, and experiential therapies to create curated treatment plans that foster long-term healing. 

Virtual IOP at Charlie Health is where you’ll find your group and grow together. We can’t wait to connect with you. Get started today. 

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