Effects of Parental OCD on Children

At Vivamus our Psychologists work with parents, children and families. One of the concern parents often express is the impact of their psychological difficulties on their children, and wondering whether they might ‘pass it on’ to them. In the latest edition of the Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy (Vol 85, pg. 68 – 82), Griffiths et al (2012) report the findings from their qualitative research study which examined children’s experiences of living with parents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten 13 to 19 year olds with a parent with OCD and five themes were identified:

  • ‘control and boundaries’ (subthemes: ‘my space, my things’; ‘I’m not allowed to do that’; ‘resisting requests and creating space’; ‘my skill development’)
  • ‘doing what I can to help’ (subthemes: ‘giving comfort and avoiding upset’; ‘taking on extra responsibilities’)
  •  ‘telling: embarrassment and pride’ (subthemes: ‘keeping it a secret’; ‘OK to share successes’)
  •  ‘do I have OCD’ (subthemes: ‘watching for OCD’; ‘It’s a family thing’; ‘Dealing with possible OCD’)
  •  ‘getting the right help for me’ (subthemes: ‘getting used to, understanding, and accepting’; ‘Kids should know more’;  ‘Not just anyone can help’).

What is interesting about this study, is whilst negative experiences/consequences are discussed (as in previous studies) there are also some positive subthemes, which include the potential for pride and the desire to maintain a good relationship with their parents.  Though this study only interviewed ten children, it does highlight the need for psychologists to be curious about how client’s family members are coping and not to assume that all experiences will necessarily be detrimental.

Dr. Katherine Boucher

Clinical Psychologist