Witnessing a traumatic event has resulted in OCD behaviours in my son.

I read one of your letters/emails from a woman whose nephew washes his hands a lot. My son does this as well. It started after he and my husband were in a fatal car crash. My husband, my son and his brother miraculously survived, but the lady who crossed the centre line and hit them head on died at the scene, and unfortunately my son witnessed it.

Now my son washes his hands hundreds of times a day and asks me to wash all of his binders and so on every day. Sometimes he won’t even let me hug him because he thinks my hands are dirty, even after I have just washed them.

He was in therapy for a year, but nothing seems to help. He has been on Lexapro, as well, and tells me it doesn’t help. I have tried to get him in-patient therapy so we can try to get this under control, but no one will help us because he is not a harm to himself or others. Is there anything you would recommend? We are desperate.

He clearly has a significant problem and must be upset by this. You tried some therapy and some medications but there was no good effect.

Don’t give up. Inpatient care is only one strategy and not one I would recommend for any but the most serious problems.

Try to figure out why therapy didn’t work. Perhaps a different therapist would work better with your son. Moreover, there are different drugs that may be helpful. A combination approach using both medication and therapy may well be best.

Try outpatient treatment again.  Try to find someone who is particularly experienced in Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. Your family doctor or pediatrician can help you find the right person.

There are several excellent websites on anxiety disorders especially the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, the American Depression and Anxiety Association and several excellent books (including one written by someone with the same name as me, but not related to me):

  • Free From OCD: A Workbook for Teens With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, by T.A. Sisemore. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2010.
  • Stop Obsessing!: How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions (Revised Edition), by Edna Foa and Reid Wilson. New York: Bantam Books, 2001.
  • What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming OCD, by Dawn Huebner. Magination Press, 2007.
  • The OCD Answer Book, by Patrick McGrath. Sourcebooks, 2007.
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