Therapist-Assisted Internet-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Versus Progressive Relaxation in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Randomized Controlled Trial

Michael Kyrios, Claire Ahern, Daniel Fassnacht, Maja Nedeljkovic, Richard Moulding, Denny Meyer

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    34 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a highly disabling psychological disorder with a chronic course if left untreated. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be an effective treatment, but access to face-to-face CBT is not always possible. Internet-based CBT (iCBT) has become an increasingly viable option. However, no study has compared iCBT to an analogous control condition using a randomized controlled trial (RCT). Objective: A 2-armed RCT was used to compare a therapist-assisted 12-module iCBT to an analogous active attention control condition (therapist-assisted internet-based standard progressive relaxation training, iPRT) in adult OCD. This paper reports pre-post findings for OCD symptom severity. Method: In total, 179 participants (117 females, 65.7%) were randomized (stratified by gender) into iCBT or iPRT. The iCBT intervention included psychoeducation, mood and behavioral management, exposure and response prevention (ERP), cognitive therapy, and relapse prevention; the iPRT intervention included psychoeducation and relaxation techniques as a way of managing OCD-related anxiety but did not incorporate ERP or other CBT elements. Both treatments included audiovisual content, case stories, demonstrations of techniques, downloadable audio content and worksheets, and expert commentary. All participants received 1 weekly email, with a maximum 15-minute preparation time per client from a remote therapist trained in e-therapy. Emails aimed to monitor progress, provide support and encouragement, and assist in individualizing the treatment. Participants were assessed for baseline and posttreatment OCD severity with the telephone-administered clinician-rated Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale and other measures by assessors who were blinded to treatment allocation. Results: No pretreatment differences were found between the 2 conditions. Intention-to-treat analysis revealed significant pre-post improvements in OCD symptom severity for both conditions (P<.001). However, relative to iPRT, iCBT showed significantly greater symptom severity improvement (P=.001); Cohen d for iCBT was 1.05 (95% CI 0.72-1.37), whereas for iPRT it was 0.48 (95% CI 0.22-0.73). The iCBT condition was superior in regard to reliable improvement (25/51, 49% vs 16/55, 29%; P=.04) and clinically significant pre-post-treatment changes (17/51, 33% vs 6/55, 11%; P=.005). Those undertaking iCBT post completion of iPRT showed further significant symptom amelioration (P<.001), although the sequential treatment was no more efficacious than iCBT alone (P=.63). Conclusion: This study is the first to compare a therapist-assisted iCBT program for OCD to an analogous active attention control condition using iPRT. Our findings demonstrate the large magnitude effect of iCBT for OCD; interestingly, iPRT was also moderately efficacious, albeit significantly less so than the iCBT intervention. The findings are compared to previous internet-based and face-to-face CBT treatment programs for OCD. Future directions for technology-enhanced programs for the treatment of OCD are outlined.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere242
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


    • CBT
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy
    • Mental health
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
    • Online intervention


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