There are 2 main ways doctors and therapists help kids with OCD. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is one way to help you with your OCD. Medication is the other way. Taking medication is not the best idea for everyone, and your doctors can tell you and your parents more about whether certain medicines might be good for you. A lot of times, doctors recommend trying ERP first. This article describes what ERP is like and how it can help.
Doing ERP for OCD is sort of like going to class to learn about OCD from an OCD expert. Actually, expert OCD therapists are like teachers and coaches. They can help you and your parents:
- Learn what OCD is
- Learn how OCD tells lies and plays mean games with you to get you to feel bad about things you shouldn’t feel bad about at all
- Learn how to say “no” and disobey OCD so that you feel better
- Practice disobeying OCD at home (and maybe even at school) so you can feel better there, too
OCD usually feels even scarier when kids and parents don’t know much about it. In ERP, your therapist will teach you about OCD. He or she will tell you the symptoms of OCD, what might cause OCD, and who gets OCD (which can be everyone from adults to kids, teenagers, grandmothers, and grandfathers — you are not the only one with these kinds of thoughts). Learning about OCD can help you understand how OCD makes people scared. It can also help you understand the ways experts help people with OCD and what you and your parents can do about OCD so that you feel better.
OCD can trick you by telling you that you should feel worried and guilty about the weird thoughts that sometimes pop into your head. Sometimes OCD even tries to convince you that you are a bad person. Your therapist can teach you and your parents how OCD fools people. Your therapist will also show you and your parents how to spot OCD’s mean games on your own so that you and your parents can see how OCD is making you feel scared and guilty when you don’t deserve it!
One of OCD’s biggest games is to trick you into doing things that will make your OCD thoughts go away (things like washing your hands over and over, asking your parents if everything is OK over and over again, or forcing yourself to read or write something over and over again), but that really make your OCD thoughts even worse. Doing these things might make you feel better for a few seconds, but not for very long.
For example, have you ever washed your hands until you thought they felt clean and felt better for a few seconds? But, did you then started worrying that you might not have done a good enough job washing them? And then, did you start worrying that you should go back and wash your hands again, even more than you did last time? Or, have you ever asked your mom if everything was OK, felt better for a while, but then thought of another reason that you had to ask her more questions later on? Or, did you ever check to make sure that you had put your homework in your schoolbag and felt better for a few seconds afterwards? However, did you start worrying that you might have made a mistake and didn’t really see the homework in your bag? Then you felt like you had to check your bag again — twice this time so you could be sure?
Doing what OCD tells you to can make you feel better for a few seconds. But after a while, the good feeling wears off, and the scary feelings come back even worse than before. This can make you feel like you have to do even more of what OCD tells you to do the next time. ERP teaches kids and their parents how to disobey OCD and stop doing the things it wants you to do over and over again. This may seem scary at first, but your therapist can explain why it is the right thing to do and why it doesn’t make you a “bad person” at all.
ERP will help you and your parents understand how to disobey OCD one step at a time so that you actually stop feeling scared and guilty all of the time. Your therapist will coach you and your parents to practice disobeying OCD. Then, the therapist will teach your parents how to coach you to disobey OCD at home. Your therapist will also explain to you and your parents which things your parents should not do because they can accidentally make OCD worse.
The idea of disobeying OCD can be scary at first, but it will help! Your therapist will know how to help you get through this. He or she will help you and your parents practice saying “no” to OCD until you are able to do it all by yourselves. It takes some practice, but most kids think it is worth it in the end!
Learning and practicing ERP is sort of like riding a bike. It can be scary at first, but with help and practice, most kids get so good at it, it feels automatic, and they can’t even remember what it was like to need help with it.
By Jeanne M. Fama, PhD