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Everything You Need to Know about Teen OCD

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a mental health disorder that can cause many problems in everyday life. It usually presents as chronic recurring thoughts and compulsions to repeat the same behaviors over and over. For a young person, these behaviors can be significant, even dangerous, to their development.

Those who are presenting with OCD can display symptoms in many different ways, and the compulsions can span across a wide range of different behaviors and thoughts. The common thread that holds them all together is that the thoughts and actions are recurring, compulsive, and they impede daily activity.

At Mountain Valley, we specialize in OCD treatment for teens and families, as this stage in life can be particularly affected by cases of OCD. When trying to navigate through school, make friends, grow, and develop, excessive OCD can significantly impact the success and the ability of young people to cope with day-to-day challenges.

The Basics of OCD

Like with other mental health diagnoses, OCD has symptoms that can affect people of all ages and walks of life. The two main characteristics of the disorder are obsessions and compulsions. The former is defined as unwanted, intrusive thoughts that can trigger intensely distressing feelings, while the latter are behaviors that an individual engages in to mitigate these obsessions and distress.

Obsessions (that lead to compulsions) typically have themes, like:

  • Fear of germs, dirt, and contamination
  • Obsession with part of the body or a function of the body
  • Fear that another person’s traits or behavior will affect the client
  • The need for organization, symmetry, and routine
  • The need for perfection
  • Thoughts of losing control and disturbing consequences, typically involving harm
  • Inability to tolerate uncertainty
  • Intrusive thoughts about aggression or other unpleasant topics
  • Obsessions with morality or “good” and “evil”

These obsessions often manifest into compulsions or behaviors, such as:

  • Cleaning or avoiding objects others have touched to avoid contamination
  • Experiencing extreme stress when objects are not organized or a routine is disrupted
  • Obsessive checking or repetitive behavior (locking the door, counting, or retying a shoe until it’s “right”)
  • Avoiding situations that could trigger intrusive thoughts and compulsions (school, bridges, social interactions)
  • Expressing harmful or inappropriate thoughts

For teens, in particular, OCD can also affect their performance at school and friendships.

Learn more about what some of our young residents living with OCD have to say about their experience and symptoms to understand what it can be like as a teen with OCD.

How Teens Develop at Mountain Valley

When it comes to the treatment of OCD, taking into account the client’s stage in life, and stage of development as a part of treatment is crucial to success. No one person should be treated the same. Each resident at Mountain Valley receives an individualized treatment plan that includes: therapy, education, and fun.

School, extracurricular activities, and healthy relationships all help teens develop. However, young people with OCD may have a difficult time engaging with all three. At Mountain Valley, adolescents with OCD receive therapeutic support through a model that supports the consistent delivery of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-based Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) to develop the skills that can help them in the future. 

At Mountain Valley, an opportunity for academic programming is also an important part of the experience. After all, many adolescents enrolled with us have had periods of time where they were unable to attend school. Adolescents at Mountain Valley have the opportunity to work on their academics during Independent Academic time. 

The program structure also includes plenty of fun, another important element for teen development. MVTC Modules give our residents the opportunity to: learn more about mindfulness, work as a team with their peers, and challenge themselves. Most importantly, our young people are given the opportunity to get active and play.

A day in the life of adolescent OCD treatment at Mountain Valley includes:

  • A morning routine that promotes good personal hygiene habits
  • Mindfulness, experiential, and recreational activities
  • Individual and module academics
  • Thematic group therapy or ERP
  • Community time
  • Individual therapy or family therapy
  • Healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Adventure/therapeutic recreation outdoors
  • Phone calls and nighttime routine


The Mountain Valley Resident Schedule is designed to replicate the hours of a typical school day and features the best in holistic and evidence-based clinical care for teens with OCD.

Common Causes & Risks of OCD

While OCD has been rigorously studied, not everything is still understood about the disorder. Much like anxiety and other mental health disorders, there are theories around the causes of OCD and observations of the risks, yet the specific causes and risks differ for every individual.

Some theories about the cause of OCD encompass these three main areas:

  1. Genetics: Some believe that OCD has a genetic component, however, there has yet to be one or more genes identified that could cause this
  2. Biology: Others belief that OCD can be caused by changes in a body’s chemistry or brain functions
  3. Environment: The final theory is that obsessive fears and compulsive behaviors can be learned from a person’s environment. Whether from family members or peers, it’s believed that if these behaviors are observed enough they could become a habit

Because the cause of OCD is unknown, there are no concrete risk factors that can be identified. That being said, there are some elements that experts believe may increase the risk of triggering or developing OCD. These include:

  • Genetic predisposition – If the OCD runs in a person’s family history (especially if a parent has it), it can increase an individual’s risk of developing it
  • Existing mental health disorders – It’s believed that OCD may be related to other mental health or neurological disorders. If an individual has anxiety, depression, or a tic disorder, they may have a higher chance of developing OCD
  • Triggering life events – Traumatic or stressful events can possibly trigger OCD. It’s speculated that these instances can cause intrusive, disturbing thoughts and other emotional distress that are common symptoms of OCD

Effects of OCD in Teens

While people of all ages may experience similar symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, its effects on teens are unique because of the stage of life they are in. Some of the general complications of OCD include:

  • Health issues as a result of obsessive behaviors (i.e. frequent handwashing)
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Excessive time spent on ritualistic behaviors and routines
  • Suicidal thoughts and self-harming behavior 

For teens, especially, more specific effects of OCD can be:

  • Troubled relationships with peers
  • Bullying from peers due to compulsive behaviors
  • Falling behind in school due to difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Difficulty sleeping, leading to other behavioral problems
  • Missing school due to anxiety 

Overall, OCD in teens can lead to a poor quality of life that can affect their future endeavors or the pursuit of higher education or a career.

How to Treat Teen OCD

Because teen OCD is different from that in older adults, the path to treatment is unique. This is how teen OCD is treated at Mountain Valley:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a structured type of therapy where a teen, their family, and their therapist work together to assess, define, and treat OCD and anxiety related problems. This is a comprehensive treatment because it helps teens and their families understand how to respond to events and feelings that may trigger compulsions and obsessions. CBT focuses on challenging and changing misconceptions and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems.

This helps teens begin understanding OCD and begin their way to an exposure therapy-based treatment plan.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Exposure therapy involves asking the client to confront their anxiety sources in safe, constructive ways. In creating these exposures, the client starts to develop some comfort with the triggers that cause compulsions. The teen begins to develop strategies to overcome their compulsions. Exposures help young people overcome their anxiety or distress by taking ownership of their fears and become more adaptive. At Mountain Valley, ERP is conducted in a compassionate, collaborative, and encouraging manner. It’s used to change a teen’s relationship with situations that may trigger their OCD or anxiety. This can help them mitigate the symptoms of OCD and engage in the world and their surroundings rather than isolate themselves from stressful situations.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) & Mindfulness Practices The objective of ACT in OCD is not the elimination of discomfort; rather, it is to be present with what life brings us and to move towards more acceptance to those feelings. Acceptance and commitment therapy invites teens to open up to unpleasant feelings, and learn not to overreact to them, and not avoid situations where they are invoked. Acceptance of discomfort and learning to use mindfulness based strategies to live with them leads to a lessening of stress and anxiety.

Family Therapy, Education, and Support recognizes that the families of teens with OCD need support too. Our team takes the time to teach parents how to support and effectively communicate with their children. Parents may realize they have been unknowingly accommodating their child’s OCD and they can learn ways to control their role in their child’s stress. Supporting families of teens with OCD helps ensure that positive reinforcement and behaviors will continue even when they return home.

Want to learn more about how Mountain Valley works for teens? Read through real testimonials from students, parents, and staff to understand their experiences at our treatment center.

How to Reach Out to a Treatment Center

Mountain Valley utilizes studied and supported treatment modalities for individuals with OCD and anxiety disorders. We are licensed by the State of New Hampshire, Department of Health and Human Services to provide treatment and care to residents for upwards of 60 to 90 days.

We have seen firsthand how a structured environment, academics, and therapy can help teens with OCD thrive. Request a brochure today or schedule a call with our team to learn more about Mountain Valley Treatment Center for teen OCD.