New program in Houston helping teens with anxiety and OCD

A new program is helping teenagers deal with symptoms of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Researchers have found a specific therapy can make a life-changing difference.

Dr. Elizabeth McIngvale has learned how to work through her own bouts of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, through years of therapy and is now sharing her knowledge and expertise, as the Director of the McLean OCD Institute in Houston.


"McLean, which is a part of Harvard Med School, acquired us, so we became a part of their bigger system in Boston, but we're still the same program here in Houston. This is the first time they've gone outside of Boston, so it's exciting for Houston," exclaims Dr. McIngvale.

It’s also timely because of the rise for help when it comes to mental health.

"We are certainly seeing a huge increase in people accessing mental health care, and I think that we're all seeing higher symptom severity, long waitlists, everyone is struggling across the board, and it's hitting all mental health providers," says Dr. McIngvale.

Here is how to recognize the warning signs.

"When we're talking about anxiety and OCD, it's really about looking for any changes in the behavior that's significant. So often we talk about a change in sleep, a change in appetite, a change in social interactions, but also just noticing that increase in anxiety. So are the kids asking if they can stay home from school, not wanting to go, wanting to withdraw? Are you seeing the anxiety increase overall? Are they asking you repetitive questions? Are they getting stuck in worry loops and you have to help navigate that with them," questions Dr. McIngvale.

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With the right treatment, Dr. McIngvale says most people can fully function comfortably with anxiety and OCD.

"The great news is not only is treatment really effective, and we know that the outcomes are quite incredible for individuals to be able to get back to full functioning. It's also tools they'll use for the rest of their life," explains Dr. McIngvale.

She says the preferred treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, to expose anxiety-causing events to patients in a controlled situation so they can learn how to cope.

"What happens is - we have these thoughts, they give us anxiety, that brings on distress and unwanted feelings, so we tend to either want to suppress it, run away from it, avoid it, or rituals to feel better. What we're teaching you is actually how to change your behaviors and the way you respond to anxiety so that anxiety isn't accompanied with fear, and it's no longer something you're afraid of, but something you're willing to address head-on," states Dr. McIngvale.

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To reach even more people, the McLean OCD Institute is offering an online program that takes place three days a week in late afternoons/ early evenings. Depending on the patient, the program lasts approximately 8-12 weeks. 

It's important to note that mental health care may be more affordable than you realize.

"For example, here at McLean Houston, we are a training institute, which means we have students, we have trainees, and so we have sliding-scale options and all sorts of options that are available that you might not know exist," says Dr. McIngvale.

Many others offer something similar.

"We're so lucky to have the medical center and the Texas Medical Center really does allow if you have insurance for you to receive really great evidence-based interventions through big centers, whether it's Baylor College of Medicine or UT Health, right? There's lots of options. If you don't have insurance, or you're using a gold card right Harris health has incredible resources," explains Dr. McIngvale.


It's all about finding the right resources.

"You can always go to your local MHMRA chapter, so you can really get talk to them about here's where I stand and here's what I need help for, and they can help point you in the right direction. Don't try to do it on your own. You don't have to find the help on your own, because you can partner with some of the bigger organizations we mentioned, like Harris health or MHMRA that have resources to lead you in the right direction for affordable care," states Dr. McIngvale.

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