CBT Shown to Have Lasting Benefits for Kids with OCD

In the largest research study of its kind to date, researchers have determined cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides lasting benefits for children with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is an extremely stressful psychiatric disorder that affects between 0.25 and four percent of all children. OCD can cause kids to have unwanted thoughts, feelings, and fears. These obsessions can make a child feel anxious and may lead to compulsive behaviors or rituals.

Fortunately, new research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy provides long-term benefits for children and adolescents aged seven to 17.

In the study, coined the “Nordic research project,” investigators from Aarhus University and child and adolescent psychiatry clinics in Norway and Sweden, found that children and adolescents who benefited from the therapy were also free of patterns of compulsive behavior and compulsive thoughts one year after the treatment ended.

“The study makes clear that cognitive behavioral therapy reaches beyond the treatment period. This knowledge is important, both for the practitioners, but not least for the affected children and their families,” said Dr. Per Hove Thomsen, one of the researchers behind the study and professor at Aarhus University.

“OCD is a very difficult disorder which demands a colossal amount of the child in question. It is almost impossible to live a normal life as a child and teenager with a normal level of development, if you need to wash your hands a hundred times a day in a particular way in order not to be killed, which is something that compulsive thinking can dictate.

For the same reason, early intervention is necessary before the disorder has disabling consequences in adulthood,” explains Thomsen.

The children from the study with OCD were treated with a cognitive behavioral psychological approach. Therapists helped individuals learn to refrain from acting on compulsive thoughts and instead incorporate new thought patterns.

CBT intervention also involves the whole family, as the effect is strengthened by the mother and father supporting the methods that the child is given to overcome the OCD.

Lead author David R.M.A Højgaard, Ph.D., said the treatment approach includes close observation of the child or teenager after the initial therapy is completed.

“The results of the study indicate that to maintain the effect in the longer term you need to remain aware and detect OCD symptoms so you can nip them in the bud before they develop and become worse. This is done by offering booster sessions to refresh the treatment principles and thereby prevent OCD from getting a foothold again,” said Højgaard.

Researchers believe the study design which analyzed care in child and adolescent psychiatry clinics shows that care can be provided in a variety of settings.

“The biggest challenge facing OCD treatment is that there are not enough specially trained therapists and treatment facilities to meet needs. The study shows that if the level of training of therapists is consolidated and if supervision is provided, then it is possible to provide treatment in an isolated corner of Norway that is just as effective as the treatment provided at a university clinic,” Thomsen said.

The study is part of The Nordic Long Term OCD Treatment Study (NordLOTS) and comprises 269 children and adolescents with OCD from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

The results showed that 92 percent of the 177 children and teenagers who immediately benefited from the treatment were still healthy and free of symptoms one year after the treatment ended. Of these, 78 percent had no clinical symptoms of OCD.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Source: Aarhus University