Child & Adolescent Anxiety Research

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images, or urges (obsessions), and/or repetitive, ritualized behaviors (compulsions). OCD affects 1-3% of children and adolescents.


Obsessions are intrusive & persistent thoughts or images that are distressing and difficult to control. They can be very time-consuming, and frequently cause problems in school, relationships, and daily living. Common obsessions in children and adolescents include:

  • Contamination - excessive concern or worry about germs, dirt, or illnesses
  • Forbidden thoughts - unwanted sexual, aggressive, or religious thoughts or images (e.g., fear of harming oneself or others, excessive concern about committing a sin, thoughts about offending God)
  • Superstitious thoughts - lucky or unlucky numbers, colors, or words


Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that must be done repetitively or in a certain way, often as a means of decreasing anxiety associated with one's obsessions. Common compulsions in children and adolescents are:

  • Washing/Cleaning - excessive or ritualized hand washing or showering, cleaning of personal objects, or anything done to prevent or remove contact with germs or contaminants
  • Checking - checking that you did not make a mistake, that doors are locked or the oven is off
  • Ordering/Repeating - rereading or rewriting, repeating routine activities (e.g., walking in and out of doorways, getting up and down from chairs, need for symmetry or evenness)

Research Team

Gail Bernstein, MD

Gail Bernstein, MD
Principal Investigator


Elizabeth Harris
Study Coordinator