In today's perpetually connected world where we are bombarded by constant input from various sources, stress and anxiety are more prevalent than ever before. As adults, multi-tasking is a common expectation, and we are pushed to go further faster in every aspect of our lives, endlessly comparing ourselves to others via a steady stream of social media. It should come as no surprise that nearly half of adults experience a mental illness during their lifetime and one in two children have a physical or mental health issue.
It's not uncommon for someone to be dealing with depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In fact, over 3 million Americans currently struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly referred to as OCD. You may have heard someone refer to their own insistence on something being in a specific order or organized neatly as OCD. Often OCD is referred to in an almost joking manner, but for millions of people, it’s not a joke. It’s a day-to-day struggle.
After seeing four therapists, Kayla and her parents found their way to us. Kayla, a tween girl, first experienced anxiety as a young child. The anxiety quickly morphed into OCD. She went from therapist to therapist with no success. The OCD steadily worsened. A family friend recommended our office after noticing Kayla’s obsessive thinking and compulsive rituals had reached the point that she couldn’t sit next to anyone. She couldn’t ride on the bus, or in a car. She couldn’t even sit in her classroom seat if someone was next to her. Some days, her obsessive thinking and anxiety paralyzed her so much that she couldn’t even make it to school.
Kayla began both neurofeedback to calm her nervous system combined with Exposure and Response Therapy (ERP) to gain the skills to “talk back” to OCD allowing her to tune out her obsessions and resist the compulsions. With neurofeedback, she began to gain control over her thoughts. Within a short amount of time, Kayla and her parents noticed less obsessive thinking and questioning. She wasn’t tense all the time. She could finally sit with her family at dinner, enjoy activities, and was sleeping again. Most importantly, for the first time, Kayla was in control of her worries, obsessions, and compulsions. She didn’t know that was even possible. Kayla progressed well after several months of therapy. She continues to be free from obsessive thinking today.
What is OCD?
OCD is a mental illness characterized by unsubstantiated and irrational fear or anxiety that leads to self-imposed, time-consuming repetition of personal rituals. The most common ritual OCD is associated with is compulsive hand washing but rarely do people realize that OCD is the connection between the and the cause of handwashing. An OCD sufferer might insist on washing their hands in a perfectly timed routine out of irrational fear, whether they fear their own death, or the death of a loved one, or possibly the destruction of something they hold dear. It is the underlying reason for these rituals that is the root of the issue. A person suffering from OCD believes, often profoundly, that their fears, their performance of these random rituals, and the potential consequences are all connected.
OCD frequently starts in late adolescence or early twenties, although it occasionally begins in childhood. The onset of OCD occurs by age 14 in approximately 25% of cases. Between 1% and 3% of children and teens have OCD, making it one of the more common psychiatric disorders in that age group. For at least 4 out of every ten individuals diagnosed with OCD, it becomes a chronic disorder. An estimated 40% of individuals who develop OCD in childhood will recover from the disorder by adulthood; for the other 60%, however, a childhood-onset often means the disorder will be both severe and chronic.
Symptoms of OCD
Every child goes through periods of extreme worry and fear, but kids with OCD can't stop worrying, no matter how irrational the fear, or how well Mom and Dad reassure them. The anxiety seems hard-wired in their brain, and it compels them to behave in ways they believe will prevent something awful from happening. They may not even be able to articulate why, but they know their rituals make them feel better, safer, less anxious, and so they repeat them over and over again.
OCD can negatively impact your child’s development, their relationships, and their future. For this reason, knowing what to look for and recognizing the signs of OCD is imperative. Early intervention is key to their chances of recovery. Left untreated, these obsessions and compulsions worsen dramatically over time and could destroy their future.
OCD is commonly only thought of in terms of only having compulsive behaviors but obsessive thinking is the more common form of OCD, which makes it hard to detect.
Common Signs and Symptoms
Signs of OCD might include:
- Frequent irrational worries or fears
- Complaints of disturbing thoughts and feelings they can’t control
- Unusual or illogical behaviors that they can’t explain
- Becoming upset or anxious if something is out of order
- Uncontrollable desire to put things in a particular order
- Strange rituals, such as circling the room twice before walking out a door
- Compulsive behavior of any kind
- Difficulties focusing at school or while doing homework
- Frequent checking and rechecking things
- Consistent worry that something terrible is going to happen
- Trouble making or keeping friends
- Getting upset or angry if they’re prevented from performing a compulsive behavior or if it’s interrupted before it’s completed.
- Depressed mood or frequent anxiety
It's not unusual for a child to have OCD for a while before parents, teachers, or doctors realize it. Because the signs and symptoms come on gradually, parents may only suspect OCD if their child discusses their fears with them, or the child exhibits odd behavior chronically. If your child is manifesting any of the above signs, it's best to talk with a trained professional like a child psychologist or psychiatrist who can talk with you and your child to determine if there is a cause for concern. Early intervention is critical, so never dismiss chronic behaviors or excessive fears as quirks or a phase.
OCD and Neurofeedback
The human brain is an extraordinarily complex system, but brain scans indicate people with OCD have abnormal activity in areas associated with strong emotions and reactions, making them especially prone to overthinking or repetitive thinking that results in a looping pattern in brain wave functioning (hyper coherence). Using Neurofeedback to train the areas of the brain associated with control and emotional reactivity can adjust brain patterns. Neurofeedback reduces these overactive brain waves to help retrain the brain and calm the over-reactivity of the nervous system, therefore, reducing obsessions and compulsions.
By giving the brain direct feedback, the brain learns, over time, to better regulate itself. The nervous system calms and the limbic system can more appropriately react to stimuli instead of everything causing irritation to the brain and body. The Brain-based therapies we use directly impact the subconscious, such as Neurofeedback, Biofeedback, and BRT, and reduce brain deregulation an aid in reversing OCD by calming the nervous system, so it can respond to all stimuli in a more healthy way. That means fewer obsessions, compulsions, irritated and angry behaviors, worried thoughts, and calm thinking, engaged behaviors, and an ability to think and act without getting so stuck.
How Neurofeedback works
Neurofeedback is a safe, non-chemical method of treating a variety of conditions at a subconscious level. The goal of this non-invasive therapy is to help train the brain to function more efficiently while rewarding the brain for creating an appropriate pattern through reinforcement.
The first step is conducting a QEEG Brain Map; this is a procedure where EEG activity is recorded and statistically analyzed. This session consists of the placement of sensors on the scalp and ears. Once the QEEG session is complete, the child and their parents meet with the doctor to review the brain map. Together the doctor, the parents, and the child form a treatment plan. The number and length of sessions may vary based on each individual, but range from 20 to 100 or more sessions to complete the course of treatment.
During treatment sessions, brain functioning is monitored while recording the feedback presented by the client. The goal is to train the client to promote or reduce different brain wave frequencies by rewarding the brain for changing its activity. This teaches the brain to produce more appropriate patterns. Through this reinforcement, new electrical activity occurs in the brain, and the brainwave activity is “shaped” toward more desirable, more regulated performance. These changes result in symptom reduction – less compulsive thinking and behaviors, fear, and worry -as the brain learns to self-regulate. These changes are lasting and remain stable over time.
How Neurofeedback helps OCD
Clients who undergo neurofeedback therapy and complete their full treatment course, experience significant decreases in exaggerated emotional reactivity. They find they are better able to regulate their emotions. Neurofeedback clients with OCD to create healthier brain waves, this, in turn, reduces and eventually eliminates the symptoms. Knowledge about brain waves is not needed by the client as the clinical staff guide the client through the process. Neurofeedback is a promising course of treatment for people with conditions such as OCD. It’s simple, painless and free of side effects. While other therapies come with the risk of side-effects or take years to produce limited results, Neurofeedback clients often see substantial improvements after only a few sessions. Through multiple training sessions, the brain learns to work better without feedback. In time this leads to permanent changes and life-changing benefits.
What Does the Research Say About Neurofeedback for OCD?
From research from QEEG Brain Map data (Prichep et. al, 1993) we know which specific regions of the brain are over and under activated when a person has OCD. While many of those afflicted with OCD has overactivation in their brain structures and communication, with over 10,000 brain maps, Dr. Roseann has also found that OCD can result with under stimulation due to infectious disease states associated with clinical conditions such as PANS, PANDAS and autoimmune encephalopathy.
OCD can be a highly treatment resistant condition when treatment doesn't address the neuro-behavioral components of the disorder. In our BrainBehaviorReset™ Program, when we work with children and teens with OCD and their families, we calm the brain with science-backed methods, such as neurofeedback, and teach individuals how to dismantle the behavioral components of obsessions and compulsions with ERP Therapy.
Research shows that neurofeedback can reduce obsessions and compulsions without medication or harmful medication side effects (Barzegary, L., Yaghubi, H., Rostami, R., 2011 and Kopřivová et. al, 2013).
In a meta analysis of the data on neurofeedback research (Ferreira, S., Pêgo, J. M., & Morgado, P., 2019) despite heterogeneity groupings, “The overall effect size within the treatment group varied between medium to large” indicating that neurofeedback research for OCD can be a powerful component in treating OCD.”
Moreover, studies show that gains in OCD symptom reduction from neurofeedback were maintained post-treatment (Sürmeli & Ertem, 2011).
Want Learn More About OCD?
Wondering what are the signs and symptoms of OCD? Then read this article, What is OCD? OCD in children can look different than adults and is often missed. It often starts with subtle behaviors, such as a need for reassuring questions, insistence on nighttime rituals, or other behaviors that you may interpret as, “nerves” or worry. To learn more about the signs and symptoms of OCD in children and teens, read this blog to help you understand what's the difference between anxiety and OCD. There are great natural treatments for OCD, including supplements for OCD or herbs for OCD, neurofeedback for OCD, and Exposure and Response Prevention for OCD or ERP for OCD. Looking for information on natural solutions and treatments for OCD? Then download this FREE Natural Solutions and Treatments for OCD. And wondering what the research says what dosages of these herbs and supplements your child should be taking, then download this FREE OCD Supplement Checklist.
Barzegary, L., Yaghubi, H., Rostami, R., (2011). The effect of QEEG- guided neurofeedback treatment in decreasing of OCD symptoms. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Volume 30. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042811023469
Ferreira, S., Pêgo, J. M., & Morgado, P. (2019). The efficacy of biofeedback approaches for obsessive-compulsive and related disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry research, 272, 237–245. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2018.12.096
Kopřivová, J., Congedo, M., Raszka, M., Praško, J., Brunovský, M., & Horáček, J. (2013). Prediction of treatment response and the effect of independent component neurofeedback in obsessive-compulsive disorder: a randomized, sham-controlled, double-blind study. Neuropsychobiology, 67(4), 210–223. https://doi.org/10.1159/000347087
Sürmeli, T., & Ertem, A. (2011). Obsessive compulsive disorder and the efficacy of qEEG-guided neurofeedback treatment: a case series. Clinical EEG and neuroscience, 42(3), 195–201. https://doi.org/10.1177/155005941104200310
Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.
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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”
She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach. She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
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