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4 Useful Questions to Ask Your Child’s OCD Therapist

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

One key piece of advice my wife and I received during our search was to interview the therapist. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) therapy requires specialized treatment and education. You can’t just rely on someone listing the condition on their website for proof.

First things first, though. When you get a list of possible candidates, hopefully they already check the basic criteria and you can find out things like:

Are they a licensed therapist? (Not an “OCD Coach” or “OCD Expert.”)

Are they taking new patients?

Do they take your insurance, or how much will you be paying out of pocket?

Do they specialize in treating kids and teens with OCD?

Where were they trained to treat OCD?

What other anxiety disorders do they work with?

Do they practice and believe in exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP)? Perhaps even acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)?

Now, whenever you get the chance to speak with the therapist, use that time to see if they know their stuff. Get them to talk about OCD, your child and about their process. They’ll have plenty of questions for you; be prepared to ask a bunch back.

Yes, you have every right to interview a therapist. Therapists should understand this; after all, they’re your partner in the process of recovery. If they are guarded and don’t appear open to sharing and communicating, it’s a red flag to me.

To help you probe deeper into your questions, here are four my wife and I asked:


1. Who are your mentors or people you learn from in the psychological community?

An OCD education doesn’t stop just because you have a license and pass a test.

This question gives the therapist a chance to share what they’re reading and show off their passion. Hopefully, they pass on something they find really interesting when it comes to treating an anxiety-related disorder. Maybe the therapist will share something that’s changed with treatment over the past decade.

The response gives you a chance to write notes and follow up to see you if they are dialed into the latest books, podcasts or therapies. If the therapist is active with what’s being talked about currently, they’re likely to pass on that learning to you. Major benefit!

2. Will you come to our home (or whenever the OCD triggers are) to work on exposure therapy?

“Yes.” Or some affirmative statement is the answer I would prefer you to hear.

The reason this question is key is that many OCD issues are tough to simulate in the office. When a therapist is willing to meet you where the issues happen, this can further their understanding as well as lead to dramatic improvements in your child. We’ve known therapists who’ve ridden the subways with patients and walked the halls of schools to work on exposures.

Our therapist has come to our neighborhood twice and once took my daughter to a hospital to practice exposures. (If you’ve seen our film “UNSTUCK: An OCD Kids Movie,” one such visit is detailed in the story about the trees.)

So, what if the therapist says “no” or “I can’t?” Then, ask for ideas of how they would work on exposures where you child is affected most. How have they worked around this in the past with kids whose issues happen around a specific place or object? Would the therapist be open to a teletherapy session? Basically, a video chat with you and your child where you’re in the place where the OCD issue happens and the therapist would be on the video to observe and assist.

It’s not that out-of-office visits will happen regularly; it’s just an option you want on the table. It can be a real key to recovery.

3.  I am looking for recommendations; what are your favorite books or resources about OCD? What would you recommend for my child?  

This is one question a therapist should be quick to answer. It should take less than a second to rattle off a book or two. Hopefully, their list is exhaustive and includes podcasts, blogs, websites, etc. It’s should be a more in-depth and list-like answer than question one above.

In my experience, OCD forces parents to unlearn many of the natural parental instincts. Any good OCD therapist should instinctively understand this and have resources at the ready to help your family. And there’s a lot of resources for young kids, tweens and teens, so age shouldn’t matter.

4. What support and guidance will you give my whole family?  

While this question may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how many therapists don’t consider “the whole family” in their treatment plan.

Clearly, your child with OCD is the main person who needs help, but OCD takes over and divides the entire family. It’s important when you’re just starting out to make sure you, your partner, your other children, and so on could have time with the therapist as well.

Defeating OCD is a team effort; get a feeling if the therapist is open to talking with you or even allowing you to join part of each session, as needed. Could your other, non-OCD children also have access to the therapist if they want questions and concerns addressed?

A typical therapist session may last between 45 and 60 minutes; you want to make sure the therapist will leave time to coach you about OCD and how to address issues as they come up.

When we first began, my wife and/or I would join for the first 10 minutes of our daughter’s session, then we would leave so she had the majority of the time by herself. We soon switched to coming at the end of the session just to hear the homework or make sure certain issues were addressed. During that first year, we also had separate sessions of our own to strategize issues, discuss our plan for not accommodating and to just ask questions. Even our youngest child got involved when she wanted to have her own “tell me about OCD” session.

The main focus will be your child with OCD. Being available to other members of your family will only strengthen everyone’s ability to defeat obsessions and compulsions.

Best of luck!

Want more questions to ask a therapist? Check out this piece by Dr. Michael Jenike from the OCD Foundation blog.

Getty Images photo via LightFieldStudios

Originally published: August 12, 2019
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