What is the research about?

The parents of children and young people who have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have sometimes don’t want them to use medication. As well, many young people with OCD are unable to take the medication for a variety of reasons. In 2007, researchers looked at whether or not non-medication treatments worked to reduce the symptoms of OCD. That review showed that the best non-medication treatment for OCD in children and youth is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is used to help people change the kinds of thinking that makes their symptoms worse. It can be offered to individuals and groups, in person, or online. This updated review looks at studies of many kinds of non-medication treatments for OCD, including the various types of CBT.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers carried out an update of a 2007 review of different kinds of non-medication treatments for children and youth with OCD. They then grouped them according to the strength of their research methods. They then looked at the studies to see if they met the highest standards for research studies.

What did the researchers find?

This review found good evidence that family-based group CBT, non-family-based CBT, individual CBT, and technology-based CBT worked well. However, many studies were not conducted as well as they could have been. Many had only a small number of participants. Some of the studies did not have a comparison group. Others didn’t describe the participants or the content of the therapy well enough. All of these research flaws reduced the strength of the evidence that the treatments worked well. Larger studies are needed to understand why and how CBT works and for what kinds of OCD symptoms.

Take home message

There is limited high quality research on the use of CBT in OCD, but existing studies show that it likely does work well in children with OCD. Researchers should carry out larger, better designed studies to see which types of CBT are the most useful. They should also identify what part(s) of the treatment actually help change behaviour.


The original Research Report was written by J. Freeman and associates, and was published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. 2014.