Family Therapy and OCD

For many therapists and other mental health professionals, the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, are fairly clear. But for parents of children who suffer from related difficulties, it’s not always a straightforward matter to distinguish between positive and unhelpful behaviors, and sometimes parents’ efforts to help their children can have the opposite effect. Validating the behaviors associated with OCD is a common, and often unintentional, result of parents’ reactions to their children’s symptoms. But through consultation with a mental health professional and a better understanding of how OCD tends to work, parents can provide the care they seek to bestow upon their children without worsening symptoms.

A study recently published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology has revealed that a large number of families engage in what the study terms as “accommodations,” which typically take place when parents wish to soothe upset over a particular worry or concern experienced by a child. Such accommodations can include assistance in carrying out obsessive rituals, or the verbal assurance of certain conditions about which the child is worried.

The study, conducted at the University of Florida, aimed to discover if therapy delivered to both young clients and their families could achieve more positive results, and to determine whether such therapies impacted the families as well as the children involved. Significantly, families who participated in the study showed a decrease in the occurrences of accommodating behaviors, in a direct relationship with the improvement of the child’s symptoms. The study may have important implications for the fields of child and family therapy, as the message that including family members in treatment is continuing to gain momentum throughout these fields.

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Maureen


    June 23rd, 2009 at 8:12 PM

    I didnt quite get what “accomadations” meant. An ex: would be helpful. I think most children say around ages 2-6 are obsessed about a particular doll or toy. Some children hate it if someone touches it or another child grabs their favorite toy. Is this a beginning of OCD or is this normal childhood behavior?

  • Lula


    June 24th, 2009 at 1:59 AM

    it’s awful to think that OCD starts at such a young age. Its good to hear that therapy helps all sorts of problems

  • Carter


    June 24th, 2009 at 6:39 AM

    Thanks for this helpful information. I think that like Maureen states that with kids it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between just a normal child fixating on one toy or item and the differences that this is with obsessing over certain types of repetitive behavior, such as hand washing, etc. It is very valuable to have new things coming down the pipes all the time because that always helps parents like me know when to be on the lookout for problem areas and what things are just typically done by most kids.

  • Nancy


    June 25th, 2009 at 3:41 AM

    Unless you have been through behavior like this with your own child it is difficult to imagine the stress that the parents feel to make it go away. OCD is one of those terrible disorders like so many others that I am sure that you feel like you have absolutely no control over and it takes a lot of time and intense therapy to get the behaviors under control. I am saddened by just how much this probably works to destroy the overall quality of life of a child and I am glad to hear that research continues to be done to hopefully help to get this under control for the many families who have to deal with this on a daily basis.

  • Cole


    June 27th, 2009 at 5:27 AM

    Is there any conclusive evidence that disorders like OCD are genetic and run in families?

  • Norma


    June 28th, 2009 at 9:48 AM

    How many times have we all as parents made accommodations such as these in order to better help our kids self soothe? We have all done that and I cannot see how these things could possibly contribute to OCD in a child. To me it is about so much more than that, and goes so much deeper than just having things a certain way or needing specific rituals in order to keep them comfortable. I know that there are times when it can get out of control but I never think that this is the intent of any parent- most of us are just doing what we do to better keep the peace and to make our kids feel safe and comforted, free from harm and fear.

  • Pam


    June 29th, 2009 at 1:48 AM

    I fetch my son from school and it is a habit now to ask me what I’ve brought him to eat. A day I forget will definitely be a lousy ride home. I sometimes wonder if this is the beginning of OCD. He is 7 years old.

  • Mercy


    July 1st, 2009 at 3:40 AM

    Pam I think this is normal childishness. Getting his way is how children demand attention. I also think you should exercise your mummy muscle.

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