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Last Updated on : 10th Sep, 2013

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Obsessions & Compulsions

What are Obsessions & Compulsions?

Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are intrusive, inappropriate, and cause significant amounts of anxiety or distress. These obsessions are not excessive worries about real-life problems and the person suffering from them realizes that they are irrational and products of his/her own mind. A person suffering from obsessions tries their best to ignore them or to neutralize them with some other thought or action. Common obsessions include thoughts about contamination, repeated doubts, a need to have things in a particular order, aggressive or scary impulses, and sexual imagery.

Compulsions are defined by rigidly applied repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels a need to perform in response to an obsession. The purpose of compulsions is to prevent or reduce distress or prevent some feared event or situation. Further, these behaviors or mental acts are excessive and not realistically connected to what they are supposed to neutralize or prevent. Common compulsions include hand washing, ordering, checking, praying, counting, and repeating words silently.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by recurrent and severe obsessions and/or compulsions that are time consuming (i.e., more than one hour per day) or cause large amounts of distress or impairment.

As can be seen below, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) currently has the most research evidence for the treatment of young people with OCD. This treatment can be administered in a variety of different formats, each of which has varying levels of research support.

Child & Adolescent OCD

Works Well
What does this mean?
  • None
What does this mean?
  • Individual CBT
  • Family-focused Individual CBT
Might Work
What does this mean?
  • Family-focused Group CBT
  • Group CBT
  • Technology-based CBT

Does Not Work

  • None
Source: Freeman, J., Garcia, A., Frank, H., Benito, K., Conelea, C., Walther, M.,  & Edmunds, J. (2013): Evidence-Base Update for Psychosocial Treatments for Pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, DOI:10.1080/15374416.2013.804386
* The Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology does not present conclusions based on research examining the effectiveness of medications.  Instead, we review all treatment research that includes psychological therapies, including those that involve medication.

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