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Fighting back against the internal monsters

15 May 2023
Ashtons Story Content

After noticing that 10-year-old Ashton* would repeatedly ask his parents who would be collecting him from school each day, his school principal realised there might be an issue. Ashton was experiencing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

It all began when Ashton suffered a bout of travel sickness and things quickly spiralled out of control. He was terrified of being sick again and completely preoccupied with the idea. It became so severe that he was refusing to eat certain things. If bread or milk had been left out for even a short time, he would worry it would make him sick. He began compulsive handwashing, and his hands became red raw as a result.

At Ashton’s school, a student was sick, and he refused to wear any of the clothes he had worn that day – or any clothes that had touched them, even after they had been washed. He also refused to eat the foods the student had eaten that day.

On a family outing in the car, Ashton became so frightened he was going to be sick that he tried to climb out of the window. He was screaming and shaking with terror. It took a full week for his parents to encourage him to travel in the car again.

All this was having a considerable detrimental impact on his quality of life. Ashton wrote a letter to his parents saying, “I feel sad all day every day, I’m so terrified I’m going to be sick.” He was severely distressed.

Ashton's parents knew they could not provide the support he needed, so they asked Ashton if he wanted to talk to someone. This is when Presbyterian Support was called in to help.

OCD Story Bully Army Drawing Cropped

Help is at hand

Ashton was referred to one of Presbyterian Support’s Family Works Child and Family Psychologists, Sandra*, who carried out an assessment and indicated OCD.

Sandra* explained the cycles of OCD and that hand washing provides short-term relief, but this doesn’t make the feelings go away. The anxiety remains and becomes worse in the long-term. She helped to externalise OCD, explaining that it is not part of Ashton and that he could fight back against it.

She put several strategies in place to help Ashton and his whānau – this included supplying flash cards and thought spinners to provide coping thoughts. She taught cognitive thought strategies and relapse prevention techniques. Ashton loves to express himself through drawing and he created a comic book using monsters to depict his OCD and named them The Bully Army. 

Sandra* worked with Ashton on a ‘Fear Hierarchy’ – where he rated his fear levels for various tasks. He was asked to perform a task without washing his hands and tracked his anxiety on a graph – this visual representation helped him to realise his anxiety can only reach so high before falling again.

Fighting back

Thanks to Sandra’s guidance, Ashton can now use the strategies he has learnt to recognise his negative thoughts and ignore them without becoming distressed – he is fighting back! He has improved immensely. He now needs less reassurance, he is eating regularly, and no longer avoids triggering situations. 

Testament to this, Ashton was challenged in a different way when a bereavement in the family transformed his OCD symptoms from hand washing to heavy breathing and threatened to derail his progress – but Ashton knew how to stand up to The Bully Army and won the battle.

Ashton will not be able to stop the thoughts from coming, but he can use the strategies he has learnt to turn things around and continue to stand up to The Bully Army. Sandra says she is so proud of Ashton, “He does not listen to The Bully Army any longer and it does not scare him anymore.”

*Names and images have been changed to protect client privacy

Will you please help support other children in need?

Ashton's quality of life has drastically improved thanks to our Family Works service. Will you help us continue our valuable work by making a donation today? Thank you.

Family Works counselling for children

If there are concerns about a child’s behaviour, or emotional wellbeing, and the child is struggling, our confidential counselling and social support services are here to help.

The Family Works team includes trained counsellors, psychologists and social workers who work with children/tamariki and families/whānau on a range of issues that may be impacting
their enjoyment of life, such as:

  • Anxiety, phobias and panic attacks
  • Grief, loss, and depression
  • Sleeping and eating problems
  • Anger, violence, and effects of abuse
  • Behavioural issues
  • Relationship issues

 For more information about our Family Works service, visit our web page.

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