02:06pm Tuesday 31 March 2020

Research to focus on children with obsessive-compulsive disorder

“Examination of intensive treatment programs for pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has only occurred within the last five to 10 years,” said Kristin Canavera, graduate student in the Department of Psychology in the College of Science. “This type of research is pivotal in discovering how to treat children most effectively.” Canavera is a clinician for the department’s Child Study Center and coordinator of the program.

People with OCD experience unwanted or persistent thoughts, repetitive behaviors, and compulsions. Common obsessions include worries or fears about contamination, harming themselves or others, infection, and feeling responsible for unfortunate occurrences. Common compulsions include excessive hand-washing, elaborate routines, re-reading, counting, hoarding, and repeatedly asking the same question.

Thomas H. Ollendick, University Distinguished Professor of Psychology and director of the university’s Child Study Center, is the principal investigator of the treatment program. His research team uses a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). Condensed into an intensive five-day program, ERP aims to alleviate obsessive-compulsive behavior by gradually exposing children to their obsessive fears and compulsions over a prolonged period of time.

“We work closely with the child to create their fear hierarchy and set a pace appropriate for them,” Canavera said. “Every exposure is gradual and depends on the individual child’s progression. Each child is different as far as pacing goes.”

Parental involvement in ERP is vital to the continuation of treatment after the study is completed. Parents progress from observing the treatment sessions to the execution of ERP without a clinician. “This type of treatment attempts to transfer the role of the therapist to the parent,” Canavera said. “We call it the coaching method.” 

The outcome of this study will determine the efficacy of intensive treatment for pediatric OCD. It will also determine the feasibility of such a program for families, given their hectic schedules. Morning and afternoon sessions are conducted each day for five days. Parents and children are encouraged to practice their newly acquired skills between sessions. 

The program is open to children ages 7-14. If interested, families must undergo an assessment to determine eligibility and have the ability to travel to Blacksburg, Va., for treatment sessions.

For more information, contact Kristin Canavera at (540) 231-3514.

The College of Science at Virginia Tech gives students a comprehensive foundation in the scientific method. Outstanding faculty members teach courses and conduct research in biology, chemistry, economics, geosciences, mathematics, physics, psychology, and statistics. The college offers programs in many cutting edge areas, including those in energy and the environment, developmental science across the lifespan, infectious diseases, computational science, and nanoscience. The College of Science is dedicated to fostering a research intensive environment that promotes scientific education and outreach.

Written by Meaghan Hinder. Hinder graduated in May 2010 with a degree in communications from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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