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While it is normal for children and teenagers to have worries and doubts, for around 2% of young people, these worries will not go away and will develop into obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a leading counselling psychologist has said.

With OCD, people experience repetitive and upsetting thoughts and/or behaviours. There are two main features of the condition, obsessions and compulsions. An example of this is where a person becomes obsessed with dirt or germs and as a result, feels compelled to wash their hands excessively.

According to Leslie Shoemaker, who works with support group, OCD Ireland, research indicates that many children with OCD are diagnosed between the ages of seven and 12. However in some cases, the condition may have been present for some time before it was detected.

“These young people are often afraid that they may be ‘crazy’ because they are aware that the content of their thoughts are different from others. Sadly, this very factor may also prevent the young person from telling a parent or another adult about the thoughts because of this fear that there is something quite wrong with them”, Ms Shoemaker explained to

She said that the child or teenager may worry about what the content of their thoughts says about them, especially if the thoughts are of a sexual, religious or aggressive nature.

“For some, this may lead to depression and esteem problems if the OCD is left unidentified and untreated”, Ms Shoemaker said.

She pointed out that obsessive thoughts can lead to compulsions that are time consuming and stressful for the young person. Examples of compulsions are excessive washing and grooming, putting items in symmetrical order, touching things over and over and even hoarding items.

Often these compulsions must be carried out in a ‘prescribed manner’ – if the young person is interrupted, he/she will have to start the entire process again.

“Still, not all children and teens will have an observable ritual such as these. In some cases, the young person will think the distressing thought over and over again. The logic is if they think about it enough the thought will eventually disappear. This is an example of a covert ritual. Another example of this type of ritual would be counting or praying”, Ms Shoemaker explained.

She said that in many cases, the child or teenager will ask the family to participate with the rituals, such as requiring that dishes be washed a certain number of times.

“At times, families may not be able to comply with the requests or they may not wish to and this can result in the child/teen with OCD becoming quite annoyed or even angry and sometimes even verbally abusive. Obviously this can lead to family conflict as well as frustration and even confusion for everyone”, Ms Shoemaker said.

Currently the exact cause of OCD is unknown, however it is commonly referred to as a neurobiological disorder, in other words, a disorder of the brain. Evidence suggests that in around 13% of cases, there is a genetic link.

According to Ms Shoemaker, if a parent suspects that their child has OCD, they should contact their GP to arrange an assessment.

“It is important that families learn about OCD and its treatment, a therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in order to better support the young person. This knowledge, support and assistance can help them enormously since OCD can be successfully treated”, Ms Shoemaker added.

OCD Ireland is holding a public lecture on OCD in children and adolescents in St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, on Wednesday March 19.

For more information on this or any aspect of OCD, click on


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