Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available


Episode 2 of 3

Laverne Antrobus explores how child development is affected by obsessive compulsive disorder and how research is unlocking a greater understanding of how the OCD brain works.

In this fascinating film, Laverne Antrobus explores the complicated and often misunderstood condition of obsessive compulsive disorder. Laverne reveals what is actually happening in the brains of children with OCD that makes them so different from other youngsters. She meets OCD sufferers, examines the causes of such a debilitating disorder and takes a look at the innovative methods being used to overcome it. She meets the parents whose lives have been overtaken by caring for their child and interviews the scientists investigating the causes. As Laverne learns about the illness, we get an amazing insight into the developing mind and how we all process day-to-day anxieties and stress.

OCD is one of the most common anxiety disorders in children, affecting over 1 per cent of people in the UK. Sufferers have intrusive obsessive thoughts that can cause extreme anxiety which compels them to repeatedly perform compulsive behaviours aimed at reducing that anxiety. Symptoms can range broadly, something that Laverne discovers through visiting two different teenagers. Anna suffers from obsessive hand washing, something which is beginning to dominate her life more and more. In a powerful interview with Laverne we learn just how much control OCD has over her and the way she thinks. The next teenager that Laverne meets is Jonathan. In contrast to Anna his OCD is characterised by obsessive irrational thoughts in which he thinks he has harmed someone, even though it is something he has never done.

Laverne embarks on a quest to discover why anxiety is part of human nature and what happens when it goes too far. At King's College London she conducts a test to measure her response to threats and the theory that anxiety has evolved as a defensive response. Laverne also confronts her own fear of spiders at an anxiety workshop where she is made to handle a tarantula.

Laverne then examines the different way that brains of children with OCD actually develop. Why are they so over-anxious? What has happened? A combined team of scientists are carrying out one of the most comprehensive studies into the OCD brain, giving Laverne a chance to gain a unique understanding into the condition. As the scans from this research are fully analysed, they are producing some extraordinary three-dimensional images of a key area of the brain thought to be affected by OCD - the basal ganglia.

Jonathan's life is so dominated by his OCD that he has resorted to a five-day therapy for teenagers and their families in cognitive behavioural therapy at the Maudsley hospital in south London. Laverne has a privileged insight into this treatment as she follows the family through the course of an emotional week. She sees how the Maudsley team tackles OCD head on by making people with the condition confront their fears. In some dramatic scenes Laverne witnesses Jonathan being given a knife to handle and asked to stand on the edge of a train station platform in order to face his irrational thoughts.

The exact cause of OCD is still not known, but in this powerful and heartwarming film Laverne finds out the new clues pointing to its origin. We also gain a true understanding of how it can affect people and the life-changing treatments that are on offer.

1 hour

Last on

Thu 23 Aug 2012 01:15

Learn more with The Open University

Learn more with The Open University

Open University academic Kieron Sheehy interviews Growing Children presenter Laverne Antrobus about ethical issues surrounding the series.


Watch the Open University’s exclusive behind the scenes interview


  • Mon 20 Aug 2012 21:00
  • Mon 20 Aug 2012 23:30
  • Tue 21 Aug 2012 01:45
  • Thu 23 Aug 2012 01:15

Test your knowledge with The Open University

Test your knowledge with The Open University

"OCD cannot be treated or cured" – true or false? Put your knowledge to the test.

Test your knowledge with The Open University

Test your knowledge with The Open University

Go to the OU's Growing Children page