UCLA Campus    |   UCLA Health    |   School of Medicine Translate:
UCLA Health It Begins With U

Clinical Updates


Clinical Updates


Child OCD, Anxiety & Tic Disorders Program offers clinical studies and treatment


CU-Child OCD Anxiety & Tic Disorder ProgramThe Child OCD, Anxiety & Tic Disorders Program at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA is a world-renowned clinical research and training program that also provides state-of-the art evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents up to age 17 with anxiety and related disorders.

Started in 1995, the program develops and evaluates treatments for youths who suffer from a variety of anxiety disorders, including social, separation, and generalized anxiety disorders; obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD); Tourette’s and other chronic tic disorders; and trichotillomania (chronic hair-pulling). UCLA makes promising and effective treatments available to patients through clinical trials and at clinics.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in children and adolescents and affect between 15 and 20 percent of youths. OCD, a specific type of anxiety disorder, affects up to 2 percent of youths and is characterized by unwanted, intrusive and upsetting thoughts, feelings or urges, which lead to repetitive behaviors meant to counteract a fear. Common obsessions include fear of germs, illness or bad things happening to oneself or loved ones. Common compulsions include excessive hand washing, checking, arranging, counting, or needing to repeatedly touch certain objects or say certain words. Children with anxiety disorders often need excessive reassurance and tend to avoid age-appropriate social, school and family activities.

Chronic tic disorders, including Tourette’s disorder, affect 2 to 3 percent of children and adolescents, and are neurological disorders characterized by repetitive and unwanted movements and sounds. In severe cases, tic disorders can cause permanent physical damage and may interfere with a child’s school attendance. Children with trichotillomania repeatedly pull out their hair to the point of noticeable hair loss.

Eligible patients with these disorders may receive treatment by participating in one of the program’s ongoing clinical trials. Those who don’t qualify for a clinical trial may receive treatment through an associated clinic staffed by child psychiatry fellows and psychology interns under the close supervision of senior UCLA faculty. An intensive outpatient program also affiliated with the program provides treatment for youths with more severe OCD or for whom specialized treatment isn’t locally available.

Proven techniques

The program’s clinical research and associated clinics emphasize two proven treatment techniques: cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and medication. Parents and other family members often participate in CBT with their child, since program researchers have shown that teaching family members effective coping strategies for helping their children can lead to better outcomes in many cases.

Non-medication interventions

Until recently, medication was the only effective treatment available for children who suffered from Tourette’s and other chronic tic disorders. But a recent NIH-funded multi-site study headed by UCLA has shown that a behavioral intervention, which included habit reversal training (HRT) and a tic management and education component for families, is a safe and effective treatment for children with the disorder. HRT teaches youngsters to recognize the urges or sensations that trigger their tics and to respond with an incompatible movement or action. In the NIH study, the behavioral intervention was found as effective as the most commonly used medications for tics but without the side effects commonly seen with these medications.

Computer-based treatments

The program is also testing other cutting-edge treatments that use computer-based technology to teach youths with OCD and other anxiety disorders different ways to change their reactions to the thoughts, images and situations that may trigger their anxiety. This treatment approach has been shown to be effective with anxious adults. Program researchers are currently planning future research projects to adapt this computer-based treatment for the Internet, which may ultimately allow patients to receive treatment in their own homes.

Program offers gold-standard treatments

The UCLA Child OCD, Anxiety & Tic Disorders Program has two related missions: to develop and study the most effective treatments for anxiety and related disorders in children and to train mental health care providers in those treatments. “Our goal is to make effective, scientifically-based treatments available to all the children and adolescents who need them,” says program director John Piacentini, Ph.D.

Since 1995, the program has trained more than 150 clinical psychology interns and child psychiatry fellows in proven treatments for children suffering from anxiety, tics and related disorders. Eligible children ages 4 to 17 may receive treatment through one of the program’s ongoing clinical trials or the associated clinical programs.

Clinical trials test new treatment options while exploring the neurobiological, psychological and genetic underpinnings of anxiety and tic disorders. Ongoing studies use cutting-edge neuroimaging and neurophysiological techniques, including fMRI and quantitative EEG, to identify brain changes associated with effective treatment.

Program Faculty

John Piacentini, Ph.D.
ABPP Director, Child OCD, Anxiety & Tic Disorders Program
Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

R. Lindsey Bergman, Ph.D.
Director, UCLA Pediatric OCD Intensive Outpatient Program
Associate Director, Child OCD, Anxiety & Tic Disorders Program
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

James McCracken, M.D.
Medical Director, Child OCD, Anxiety & Tic Disorders Program
Joseph Campbell Professor of Child Psychiatry

Susanna Chang, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Audra Langley, Ph.D.
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Tara Peris, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Erika Nurmi, M.D.
Medical Director, UCLA Pediatric OCD Intensive Outpatient Program
Clinical Instructor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Melody Keller, Ph.D.
UCLA Pediatric OCD Intensive Outpatient Program
Program Manager, Child OCD, Anxiety & Tic Disorders Program

Contact Information
UCLA Child OCD, Anxiety & Tic Disorders Program
300 UCLA Medical Plaza Suite 1315
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Phone: (310) 825-0122

Add a comment

Please note that we are unable to respond to medical questions through the comments feature below. For information about health care, or if you need help in choosing a UCLA physician, please contact UCLA Physician Referral Service (PRS) at 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631) and ask to speak with a referral nurse. Thank you!

comments powered by Disqus