Online therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder beats medication

Talking to the computer. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Online therapy is well on the way to complementing more traditional forms of psychological treatment. Trials of a new e-treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) reveal that it is at least three times more effective than medication.

A group-based treatment for hoarding disorder has also proved effective and is now being converted into an online resource for treating the affliction.

Hoarding and OCD are treatable, even though some people seem to think they are not. 

Professor Michael Kyrios, ANU

Acclaimed OCD expert Professor Mike Kyrios, the director of the Australian National University Research School of Psychology, unveiled the study findings in a public lecture on Monday.

“Hoarding and OCD are treatable, even though some people seem to think they are not,” Professor Kyrios said. “We have been developing online treatments that are very, very effective.”

They certainly work better than what scientists know about medication treatment, Professor Kyrios explained. “We compared OCD Stop! against an online relaxation treatment, helping people deal with their anxiety in difficult situations. It, too, was effective although the cognitive-behaviour therapy program was significantly better.”

Those most likely to benefit from online therapy include people who feel too much shame about their OCD because of the nature of the unwanted thoughts they are having.

“In addition, people who can’t access an experienced therapist, such as those living in rural and remote communities could visit their doctor, while at the same time going through this more specific OCD program,” Professor Kyrios said.

“Finally, patients who have attended the standard rebated 10 sessions a year and can’t afford to keep going privately, could benefit by continuing with this program.”

Professor Kyrios said the management of hoarding disorder in Australia had improved significantly since the condition was added in 2013 to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

“The nice thing about including hoarding in the manual is that mental health has now come to the party in terms of being able to treat hoarding,” he said. “Until then, mental health services would not help.”

In the past, hoarding was considered a type of OCD but psychologists working in this area know that hoarders are different.

Traditional psychiatric wisdom says that while many anxiety disorders respond to psychotherapy, OCD sufferers do not always respond.  This has been taken, in some circles, to imply that it is a biologically based condition requiring medication management.

Other scientists are interested in how the research stacks up; if it’s positive, this may challenge their present understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The study, called OCD Stop!, can be found at:

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