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OCD and Cognitive Therapy (CT) for Students and Teachers

By Keren Perles

So you've heard about cognitive therapy and obsessive compulsive disorder, but you're not sure how to apply it to the classroom. Read on for some information about this important therapy as well as how it applies to teachers and students.

What is Cognitive Therapy?

When a child or teen is first diagnosed with OCD, they may confuse the terms "cognitive therapy" and "cognitive behavioral therapy." Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the type of therapy used most successfully with people who have OCD. There are two main aspects to it: Cognitive Therapy (CT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). These two ingredients, when used together or separately, can help a person with OCD begin to control any obsession and compulsions.

Cognitive therapy mainly focuses on toning down a person's obsessions, which in turn minimizes the person's compulsions. To do this, the therapist will work with the person to discover what exactly the obsessions are, as well as the situation in which they come about. The therapist may then put the person into a situation in which the obsession will likely follow, and then encourage the person to discuss every thought that enters her mind. The therapist and the person with OCD then work together to reinterpret the events and the obsessions so that the person's anxiety level decreases and the compulsions are no longer needed. Cognitive therapy and obsessive compulsive disorder go together because this therapy is only used for people with OCD.

Related Classroom Activities

A teacher who has a child with OCD in the classroom can use CT on their own in order to help the child deal with their obsessions. In fact, studies show that a teacher using CT in the classroom can have the same impact on a student as someone performing CT out of the classroom. One good CT-related classroom activity that can help a child with OCD is encouraging them to use a thought diary. In this diary, they should answer the following questions each time they feel an intrusive thought, or obsession, coming:

  • What caused the obsession to start?
  • What exactly was the intrusive thought about?
  • What meaning did I attribute to the thought?
  • What did I do after the thought occurred?
  • Was the obsession based on fact at all?
  • What parts of the obsession were not based on fact?
  • What could I have done after the thought occurred, rather than give in to my compulsion? (if the student gave into the compulsion originally)

Another good CT-related classroom activity entails making up a signal, together with the student, so that the student and the teacher can communicate without words about an obsession or compulsion. For example, they might have one signal that the student will send to the teacher to communicate that he or she is currently having an obsession and needs help talking through it, while the teacher can send a signal to the student to communicate understanding of this fact. When time allows, the teacher can go over to the student to talk through what has just occurred.

In addition, the teacher can give a short workshop on cognitive therapy and obsessive compulsive disorder so that other students can be aware of the problem. Before putting this activity into practice, of course, the teacher should get the green light from the student.