Helping An Adult Child Who Has OCD
Parents are not to blame for their child’s OCD. It is a neurobiological disorder.
OCD is an anxiety disorder, which, like all anxiety disorders, is neurobiological in nature. It equally affects men, women and children of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. If your adult child has OCD, or if you believe he or she has OCD, you are one of millions of parents who know the heartbreak of this frequently debilitating illness.
In the United States, about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children have OCD. And according to the World Health Organization, OCD is one of the top 20 causes of illness-related disability, worldwide, for individuals between 15 and 44 years of age.
These estimates lead many to wonder how OCD could grow from what was once a relatively “rare” condition to one of such large proportions today.
What Causes OCD?
OCD is an anxiety disorder, which, like all anxiety disorders, is neurobiological in nature. Although the precise cause of this disorder is not completely understood, researchers have found that functioning in certain areas of the brain is different in individuals who have OCD compared to those who don't. Abnormalities in neurotransmitters -- the chemical systems that send messages between brain cells -- have also been found. In addition, research has indicated that genetic, behavioral, cognitive, and environmental factors may also play a role in the onset of OCD.
As a parent, it’s natural to wonder if something in your parenting style may have triggered the onset of OCD symptoms in your child. But the manner in which you raised your child did not cause his or her OCD. Although stress can aggravate OCD symptoms, even the worst parenting doesn’t cause OCD.
While it's important for parents to understand what causes OCD, it's just as important that you understand what doesn't cause OCD.
Fortunately, effective treatment is available today to help people who suffer from OCD. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), sometimes accompanied by medication, is the most effective evidence-based behavioral treatment for OCD. It’s not a cure; there currently is no cure for OCD. But CBT can result in dramatically-reduced symptoms and, in some cases, relief from virtually all symptoms.
Knowledge is Empowering
It’s never too late to start helping the adult child you love get relief from OCD.
- What OCD is (and what is not OCD)
- Who is affected by OCD
- What causes OCD (and what doesn’t cause OCD)
- OCD symptoms -- common obsessions and compulsions
- A self-screening test for OCD
- Related conditions that may be confused with OCD, or are related to OCD
- What kind of treatment is available
- How to choose a therapist
- Treatment challenges
- Medication information
- Recovery avoidance
- Links to more resources, including other web sites, books and support groups
As a parent, you can take several very important steps toward helping your son or daughter find relief from OCD:
- Learn about OCD -- learning about this disorder will help you understand the impact of OCD and what your son or daughter is going through. It will also put you in a position to provide your child vital information about the illness and how to get appropriate treatment.
- Refer them to this web site -- provide your son or daughter with the link to this web site: www.beyondocd.org to help him or her access a wealth of information. Alternatively, it may be helpful for you to show this site to your child on your computer, his or her computer or a computer at a library.
- Download a copy of our guide Relief from OCD - A Guide for People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You can also contact us at the link below to request a printed guide to give to your son or daughter.
- Strongly encourage your child to get treatment -- being supportive also means urging him or her to get help and commit to treatment, which includes completing “homework” between Cognitive Behavior Therapy sessions.
- Bargain if you have to. Some people balk at going to therapy or doing their assigned exercises at home. Despite your best intentions, you may find your encouragement being ignored and you may even end up in an argument. If your adult child refuses to go to therapy or do homework exercises, you may have to resort to “bargaining.” It’s essentially like providing an incentive or reward for participating in therapy. Consider rewarding your child with something he or she particularly likes -- IF he or she goes to therapy and does all required assignments at home. You could try it week by week. The reward should be something that is especially appealing to your child: a new article of clothing, a new music CD, a gift card, or even a special dessert. Be creative. A number of parents have reported good success with this approach. And remember, YOUR reward will be your child’s success in therapy and overcoming OCD.
- Stop enabling your child’s OCD -- a trained therapist can help you learn how to stop reinforcing OCD by accommodating compulsive behavior or participating in your child’s rituals.
The expenses associated with OCD treatment may be financially challenging. If your adult child cannot afford to get treatment, you may be called upon to help with the cost.
If you're concerned about being able to afford treatment, you may need to look for ways to reduce costs. Fortunately, effective treatment usually isn't a long-term expense. If your child commits to working hard with a therapist and doing the prescribed homework by the therapist between treatment sessions, significant improvement can generally occur in a matter of months.
The benefits of treating OCD outweigh most short-term financial challenges. Without treatment, individuals with OCD rarely get better on their own; the disorder simply doesn’t work that way. In fact, left untreated, it frequently gets worse.
Learn more about ways to help pay for OCD treatment.