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Family accommodation in adult obsessive–compulsive disorder: clinical perspectives

Authors Albert U, Baffa A, Maina G

Received 27 July 2017

Accepted for publication 30 August 2017

Published 20 September 2017 Volume 2017:10 Pages 293—304

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S124359

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Colin Mak

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Igor Elman


Umberto Albert, Alessandra Baffa, Giuseppe Maina

Rita Levi Montalcini Department of Neuroscience, A.O.U. San Luigi Gonzaga, University of Turin, Turino, Italy

Abstract: The term accommodation has been used to refer to family responses specifically related to obsessive–compulsive (OC) symptoms: it encompasses behaviors such as directly participating in compulsions, assisting a relative with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) when he/she is performing a ritual, or helping him/her to avoid triggers that may precipitate obsessions and compulsions. At the opposite side, family responses to OCD may also include interfering with the rituals or actively opposing them; stopping accommodating OC symptoms or actively interfering with their performance is usually associated with greater distress and sometimes even with aggressive behaviors from the patients. This article summarizes progress of the recent research concerning family accommodation in relatives of patients with OCD. Family accommodation is a prevalent phenomenon both among parents of children/adolescents with OCD and relatives/caregivers of adult patients. It can be measured with a specific instrument, the Family Accommodation Scale, of which there are several versions available for use in clinical practice. The vast majority of both parents of children/adolescents with OCD and family members of adult patients show at least some accommodation; providing reassurances to obsessive doubts, participating in rituals and assisting the patient in avoidance are the most frequent accommodating behaviors displayed by family members. Modification of routine and modification of activities specifically due to OC symptoms have been found to be equally prevalent. Specific characteristics of patients (such as contamination/washing symptoms) and of relatives (the presence of anxiety or depressive symptoms or a family history positive for another anxiety disorder) are associated with a higher degree of family accommodation; these family members may particularly benefit from family-based cognitive–behavioral interventions. In recent years, targeting family accommodation has been suggested as a fundamental component of treatment programs and several interventions have been tested. Clinicians should be aware that family-based cognitive–behavior therapy incorporating modules to target family accommodation is more effective in reducing OC symptoms. Targeting family accommodation may be as well relevant for patients treated pharmacologically.

Keywords: obsessive–compulsive disorder, family accommodation, cognitive–behavior therapy, treatment response

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