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OCD and Medical Child Abuse

OCD and medical child abuseAs I’ve written about before, our family faced many issues when my son Dan spent nine weeks at a residential treatment center for OCD. There’s no question the staff there knew how to treat OCD. What they didn’t know, and what they couldn’t know, was my son: his hopes, his dreams, his values, him.

Instead of being invited to work together with the staff to figure out the best plan for Dan, my husband and I felt shut out. We also sensed we were viewed as part of the problem. So when I read this New York Times article entitled “The New Child Abuse Panic,” I broke out into a sweat. This could have been us.

I highly recommend reading this important article, which discusses how parents are increasingly being charged with “medical child abuse.” The author, Maxine Eichner, says:

Although most of these cases have nothing to do with real child abuse, credulous child welfare officials have too often supported the doctors, threatened parents with loss of custody, and even removed kids from their homes — simply because the parents disagreed with the doctor’s plan of care.

The most widely publicized case, which is discussed in the article, involved Justina Pelletier, a teenager who was being treated for mitochondrial disease. Her parents lost custody of her and she was forcibly removed from her home for 16 months because some doctors disagreed with the diagnosis, which was later confirmed.

I remember hearing her story on the news a couple of years ago, and thought I must have misunderstood it. Taken away from her family because some doctors disagreed with care she was receiving from other doctors? It made no sense. But it was true, and it is even more of an issue now. It is a scary situation for parents and caregivers.

So what do we do? In relation to obsessive-compulsive disorder, I think education continues to be the key. Many people still believe OCD is only about germs, handwashing, and rigidity. As most of us know, in actuality there is no limit to the ways OCD can present itself. We shouldn’t have to convince professionals that fear of hurting a loved one, fear of being a pedophile even though the idea repulses us, fear of offending God, fear of taking a test, or avoidance of just about anything, are just a few of the countless possible symptoms of OCD. Professionals should already know this and should be able to either diagnose their clients or make appropriate referrals.

It is imperative that we educate ourselves and others. While we need to treat medical professionals with respect, we should expect the same in return. If we ever feel threatened in any way, we need to seek support immediately. We need to realize that while there are many caring, qualified professionals out there, there are also those who are misguided. And as I’ve said before, nobody knows our loved ones, cares about them, or wants them to get well, more than we do. That alone is reason enough to be heard.

Parents and teen photo available from Shutterstock

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OCD and Medical Child Abuse

Janet Singer

Janet Singer’s son Dan suffered from OCD so severe that he could not even eat. After navigating through a disorienting maze of treatments and programs, Dan made a triumphant recovery. Janet has become an advocate for OCD awareness and wants everyone to know that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. There is so much hope for those with this disorder. Janet, who uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy, is the author of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, published in January 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield. Her own blog,, has reached readers in 167 countries. She is married with three children and resides in New England.

APA Reference
Singer, J. (2020). OCD and Medical Child Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 8 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.