Family is not an important thing. It is everything. – Michael J. Fox
The most overlooked member of the OCD treatment team is parents and spouses. Recently I spoke with a parent of a new OCD patient. Her child saw another therapist, made some progress and discharged and when the child failed to progress further. During the telephone consultation, the parent said there was limited parental involvement in therapy sessions. Limited parental involvement probably contributed to the patient’s limited progress. An integral part of the OCD treatment team is parents and spouses.
The OCD treatment team is the therapist psychiatrist and significant people in the patient’s life. Typically parents and spouses are the ‘significant people’ (and teachers in some pediatric cases). OCD ‘action plans’ performed outside the therapist’s office can be daunting and lonely. People doing exposure exercises (ERP) work sometimes need a ‘cheerleader.’ Parents and spouses often offer the encouragement needed. Another benefit of parent and spouse involvement is accountability. Parents and spouses shouldn’t be law enforcement officers, but they can check-in and give gentle nudges needed to do exposure exercises.
Parents/spouses can’t be forced to participate, and the patient has to have buy-in too. Often teens will object to parental participation. It is important to discuss with patients their comfort level with a parent or spouse present, and what degree of involvement is OK. Most adults are OK with a spouse involved for at least one session. At the very least most teens are OK to invite a parent in for five minutes at the start and end of the counseling session.
Sensitivity to the patient’s specific obsession is essential. Often people with OCD have obsessions that are embarrassing. They don’t want to disclose their obsessive thoughts to others. Discussing what the patient is comfortable sharing and disclosing when a parent or spouse is present is essential. Most patients are open to inviting a parent or spouse after exploring the patient’s concerns, determining boundaries, and explaining the benefits of parental/spousal involvement.
Parents and spouses can be important members of the OCD treatment team. They should be included in therapy when possible. Parents and spouses benefit by learning about OCD and how to support their child or spouse. Parents and spouses also offer the encouragement accountability to perform exposure exercises. If you or friend or a family member are struggling with OCD, please call my office to learn how to help people with OCD and their family members.
Michael is a Licensed Mental Heath Counselor specializing in OCD and Anxiety Disorders. Located in Winter Park he helps adolescents, adults and families battling OCD and Anxiety Disorders. Michael also facilitates popular support and counseling groups for OCD. He is a Certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and Diplomate of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. Michael is also an active member of the International OCD Foundation. His passion is helping and advocating for people and families struggling with OCD/anxiety disorders and increasing public awareness about OCD.