Sandy was a 10-year-old girl who was tormented by fear and anxiety. After her younger brother was diagnosed with asthma, she worried almost constantly about getting sick from germs. She also worried about her brother getting sick and that it would somehow be her fault.
To cope with this fear, she washed her hands until they were raw.
Over time, she began to develop the fear that her school was particularly “contaminated” with “sick” germs from other kids. She worried that if she brought home items from school, this would accidentally contaminate her family with sickness.
Furthermore, her anxiety was negatively affecting the family in many ways. For example, not only did Sandy constantly wash her hands, but she also insisted that her family members wash their hands many times throughout the day.
In order to avoid a temper tantrum, Sandy’s parents and brother did as she asked, but they started to feel resentful and frustrated by Sandy’s demands.
Sandy would also ask her parents lots of questions for reassurance about illness and safety. She asked them to check her temperature, look in her throat, check her eyes, etc. many times throughout the day. She also asked a lot of questions about how clean the house was and if there were germs present. Although they tried their best to reassure their daughter, it never seemed to work for more than a little while.
Sandy’s parents became desperate in their failed attempts to help her. They realized they needed professional help.
Sandy’s parents learned about my (Dr. Sinclair’s) specialty in pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and brought her to see me for therapy.
When Sandy began to face her fears in therapy, it was a little scary, but she gradually gained more confidence in herself.
Over time, Sandy learned that the things she thought were so scary really weren’t that scary. She discovered that her fears weren’t likely to come true. And she found out that she was really brave and could cope with her anxious thoughts.
Each time she practiced facing her fears, her anxiety went away eventually, all on its own, and she didn’t have to resort to her rituals to make her feel better.
Sandy’s parents also discovered how to encourage Sandy and get her to stop her tantrums.
Although they had to manage a few tantrums at first, eventually Sandy’s parents were free of her constant requests to involve them in her rituals. I taught Sandy’s family how to effectively use a reward system to encourage her to participate in her exposure exercises… this was Sandy’s favorite part!
In 4 short months, Sandy made great improvements.
By the end of treatment, she reported that she no longer worried about contamination from school and was able to go back and forth from school to home with ease. She did not need to resort to excessive washing or other rituals. She admitted that she was still concerned about her brother’s health, but recognized that his asthma was well taken care of and that she would leave those concerns to her parents. She returned to being a healthy and happy 10-year-old armed with her new-found skills to more effectively cope with her OCD.