Exposure Therapy May Help OCD Sufferers

Closeup of two adult hands washing with soap and running water at home. Photo: Wollertz/Shutterstock

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 11 (UPI/Stephen Feller) — People with obsessive-compulsive disorder who engage in rituals to mitigate fixations, such as repeated and excessive hand-washing because of hand hygiene, can benefit from exposure and response prevention therapy, or EX/RP, when drug treatments fail, according to a small new study.

Exposure therapy is a form of cognitive behavior therapy that exposes patients to their obsessions, teaching them to disconnect the ritual used to counter them.

Although a previous study showed EX/RP was more effective at helping reduce OCD symptoms and depression than a drug called risperidone, an antipsychotic often used with OCD patients, or a placebo, researchers were unsure if it could help in situations where the drug was ineffective.

“We want patients to know that there is another option, if common drug treatments have failed them,” said Dr. Edna Foa, a professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release. “The therapy can be life-saving, if patients are aware of it.”

Researchers recruited 32 adults diagnosed with OCD, who had not responded to either risperidone or a placebo, to randomly receive 17 twice-weekly EX/RP sessions in a controlled trial. The participants were evaluated at weeks 8 and 12, at week 16 after treatment was complete, and followed-up every four weeks for four months after the completion of the study.

The participants reported significant improvement in symptoms at the 12- and 16-week follow-ups, researchers reported, with 78 percent, or 25 patients, completing the full treatment.

While all patients showed improvement, at the 32-week follow-up 53 percent of patients were classified as responding to treatment and 34 percent, or 11 of the 32, were classified as excellent responders. The rest of the patients received medication changes during follow-up, which researchers reported enabled them to shift to the excellent-responder group.

“We know that exposure and response prevention therapy can benefit these patients,” said Dr. Carmen McLean, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. “But this study showed that EX/RP is also effective for OCD sufferers who do not benefit sufficiently from common drug treatments for OCD.”

The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.


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