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Can I curb my son's obsessive-compulsive behaviors?

Child's soapy hands under a faucet.

(Photo: Flickr/Pink Poppy Photography)

Can I curb my son's obsessive-compulsive behaviors?

August 03, 2012

Q: My 12-year-old son has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. He washes his hands constantly and has his fingers clenched to avoid getting dirty. He also wastes a lot of shampoo, hand soap, toothpaste, and water when cleaning himself. I have tried talking to him, taking away his allowance to pay for the wasting of soap, water, etc. What can I do to make him stop?

A: I'm sorry to hear about your son's condition. He doesn't have control over this behavior, so punishment will not help; in fact, that will only make him more upset and unhappy. Psychotherapy along with medication can be very effective in treating compulsive hand washing.

Psychotherapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder

A type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be effective. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves retraining through patterns and routines so that compulsive behaviors are no longer necessary.

Medications for obsessive-compulsive disorder

Certain psychiatric medications can help control the obsessions and compulsions of OCD. Most commonly, antidepressants are tried first. Antidepressants may be helpful for OCD because they may help increase levels of serotonin, which may be lacking.

I strongly encourage you to take your son to his pediatrician for an evaluation. When you are there, you should also ask him for a referral to a therapist who is skilled in cognitive behavior therapy.

-- Answer from Howard Wise, mental health counselor and expert on JustAnswer.

Daily Answer is excerpted from the JustAnswer archives and features information provided by a Expert on JustAnswer.