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Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for Children and Teens

By Aureen Pinto Wagner, Ph.D
Director, The Anxiety Wellness Center
International OCD Foundation Scientific Advisory Board

Why is CBT a Recommended Treatment for OCD in Children and Teens?

Experts agree that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for kids with OCD. Working with a trained CBT therapist, children and adolescents with OCD learn that they are in charge, not OCD.

What is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)?

Using a CBT strategy called exposure and response prevention (ERP), youngsters can learn to do the opposite of what OCD tells them to do, by facing their fears gradually in small steps (exposure), without giving in to the rituals (response prevention). ERP helps them find out that their fears don't come true and that they can get used to the scary feeling, just like they might get used to cold water in the swimming pool.

Here is an example:

Imagine a teenager who repeatedly touches things in his room to prevent bad luck. Using ERP, the teenager would learn to leave his room without touching anything. He might feel very scared at first, but after some time, the anxiety goes away as he gets used to it. He also finds out that nothing bad happens.

How Can I Convince My Child to Try ERP?

At first, ERP may sound scary to many children and teenagers. They may not be ready to try it. It is important to find a CBT therapist who is experienced in working with children with OCD. An experienced therapist will be able to get your child ready for ERP by making it kid-friendly.

When youngsters understand how the therapy works, they may be more willing to deal with the initial anxiety experienced during ERP because they know the anxiety will increase and then go down over time. Parents need to be involved in their child's treatment as well, under the therapist's guidance.

How Can I Find a Good Child Therapist?

Finding the right therapist is very important. We keep a list of therapists who specialize in OCD. To search for a therapist in your area who works with children, click here and select either "Children" or "Adolescents" from the box called "Populations Served."

Are There Any Medicines for Children and Teens with OCD?

Yes. Click here for information on OCD medicine for children.

Continue to Treatment: Medicines for Children and Teens

CBT for OCD in Adults

Back to OCD in Children and Teens