How to Beat OCD: Developing an Effective Toolbox

On Saturday, July 19th, 2014 Dr. Emily Anderson of the Houston OCD Program and Dr. Felicity Sapp of Anxiety Psychological Services presented the workshop “How to Beat OCD: Developing an Effective Toolbox” at the 2014 OCD Conference to children attendees and their family members.

Drs. Felicity Sapp and Emily Anderson during their workshop.
Drs. Felicity Sapp and Emily Anderson during their workshop.

What is a toolbox? When we build a home, we keep our tools in a toolbox. Each tool has a different purpose that is needed to build our beautiful home. A child who is learning how to fight back OCD also needs their own toolbox which is filled with strategies they can use to win this battle. Here are some of the strategies Drs. Anderson and Sapp discussed with the children during their workshop:

  • Naming OCD – Children can draw what they think their OCD looks like and then name their OCD. This tool helps children begin to identify what is THEM versus what is OCD. Doing this can assist kids in the process of separating themselves from their OCD and to identify who and what they are fighting against.
  • Fear thermometers – When children begin Exposure and Ritual Prevention, we want the child to have the language they need to identify how they anxious they are. The fear thermometer is a child friendly way of measuring the child’s subjective units of distress (SUDS) by identifying when they have a lot of fear (a high temperature) or are not fearful at all (a low temperature).
  • Fear ladders – Fear ladders are the child’s version of a hierarchy. In the fear ladder, the child identifies triggers which are lower on the ladder (easier to climb) up to the triggers which are at the top of the ladder (more difficult to climb up to). The child can then begin to climb their way up the ladder by completing exposures which are on the lower rungs.
  • Emily Anderson, PhD, reviewing a child’s representation and naming of their OCD while Felicity Sapp, PhD answers a question during their workshop.
    Emily Anderson, PhD, reviewing a child’s representation and naming of their OCD while Felicity Sapp, PhD answers a question during their workshop.

    These tools are the first steps at applying Exposure and Ritual Prevention to fight OCD. Just like adults, children also need to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. Tools such as naming OCD, the fear thermometers, and fear ladders are fun child friendly methods of helping a child in completing the empirically based treatment of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.