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Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy as an Adjunct to Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: An Open Trial

J Clin Psychiatry 1999;60:584-590

Background: We report the results of an open trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) using exposure and ritual prevention as an adjunct to serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). We hypothesized that exposure and ritual prevention would significantly reduce OCD symptoms in patients who remained symptomatic despite an adequate trial of an SRI and enable patients to discontinue their medication.

Method: OCD patients taking an adequate dose of an SRI 12 weeks who remained symptomatic (i.e., a Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale [Y-BOCS] score 16) were eligible. While taking a stable dose of an SRI, patients received 17 sessions of exposure and ritual prevention. For the intent-to-treat group, the paired t test was used to compare scores on the Y-BOCS, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Global OCD scale, the Clinical Global Impressions scale, and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression before and after exposure and ritual prevention.

Results: Six of 7 eligible patients entered the study, and 5 completed it. All 6 improved on all OCD measures. The mean ± SD Y-BOCS score was 23.8 ± 2.6 prior to exposure and ritual prevention and 12.2 ± 4.3 after it (p < .001). The mean percentage decrease on the Y-BOCS was 49% (range, 26%-61%). Patients were rated by the therapist and rated themselves as much (N = 4) or very much (N = 2) improved. Blood drug levels did not change in most patients during exposure and ritual prevention; thus, the improvement was attributed to this type of therapy. No patients discontinued their medication.

Conclusion: This open trial suggests that CBT using exposure and ritual prevention can lead to a significant reduction in OCD symptoms in patients who remain symptomatic despite an adequate trial of an SRI.