Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is prevalent and without adequate treatment usually follows a chronic course. “High-intensity” cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) from a specialist therapist is current “best practice.” However, access is difficult because of limited numbers of therapists and because of the disabling effects of OCD symptoms. There is a potential role for “low-intensity” interventions as part of a stepped care model. Low-intensity interventions (written or web-based materials with limited therapist support) can be provided remotely, which has the potential to increase access. However, current evidence concerning low-intensity interventions is insufficient. We aimed to determine the clinical effectiveness of 2 forms of low-intensity CBT prior to high-intensity CBT, in adults meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) criteria for OCD.
Methods and findings
This study was approved by the National Research Ethics Service Committee North West–Lancaster (reference number 11/NW/0276). All participants provided informed consent to take part in the trial. We conducted a 3-arm, multicentre randomised controlled trial in primary- and secondary-care United Kingdom mental health services. All patients were on a waiting list for therapist-led CBT (treatment as usual). Four hundred and seventy-three eligible patients were recruited and randomised. Patients had a median age of 33 years, and 60% were female. The majority were experiencing severe OCD. Patients received 1 of 2 low-intensity interventions: computerised CBT (cCBT; web-based CBT materials and limited telephone support) through “OCFighter” or guided self-help (written CBT materials with limited telephone or face-to-face support). Primary comparisons concerned OCD symptoms, measured using the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale–Observer-Rated (Y-BOCS-OR) at 3, 6, and 12 months. Secondary outcomes included health-related quality of life, depression, anxiety, and functioning. At 3 months, guided self-help demonstrated modest benefits over the waiting list in reducing OCD symptoms (adjusted mean difference = −1.91, 95% CI −3.27 to −0.55). These effects did not reach a prespecified level of “clinically significant benefit.” cCBT did not demonstrate significant benefit (adjusted mean difference = −0.71, 95% CI −2.12 to 0.70). At 12 months, neither guided self-help nor cCBT led to differences in OCD symptoms. Early access to low-intensity interventions led to significant reductions in uptake of high-intensity CBT over 12 months; 86% of the patients allocated to the waiting list for high-intensity CBT started treatment by the end of the trial, compared to 62% in supported cCBT and 57% in guided self-help. These reductions did not compromise longer-term patient outcomes. Data suggested small differences in satisfaction at 3 months, with patients more satisfied with guided self-help than supported cCBT. A significant issue in the interpretation of the results concerns the level of access to high-intensity CBT before the primary outcome assessment.
We have demonstrated that providing low-intensity interventions does not lead to clinically significant benefits but may reduce uptake of therapist-led CBT.