Drugs alone are not enough for fighting obsessions and compulsions

Both medication and psychotherapy are effective in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, they both have disadvantages. A group of researchers at the La Sapienza University studied the long-term effectiveness of integrated treatment compared with medication alone.

A private practice sample of 20 consecutive patients with OCD (DSM-III-R) who achieved remission or marked improvement [Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (YBOCS) score 10 and Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scale score 70] after drug treatment (clomipramine or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for 12-24 months) with or without concurrent cognitive psychotherapy were followed up. In the integrated treatment group, psychotherapy was started on the second or third visit and was timed to end after medication.

Efforts were applied to integrate treatments within a biopsychosocial theoretical framework. As randomisation was not feasible in the study setting, treatment allocation was based on patients' preference. Patients were assessed before treatment, after treatment and at each follow-up contact with the YBOCS, the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, and the GAF scale. Kaplan-Meier survival analysis was performed on the time to OCD relapse.

Of the factors studied (gender, age, duration of disorder, severity of OCD symptoms at baseline), only treatment was associated with outcome. Of 10 patients treated with medication alone, 8 relapsed. Of 10 patients who received integrated treatment, only 1 relapsed. The estimated mean survival time was significantly higher (p < 0.001) in the integrated treatment group (132 months, 95% CI 107-157) than in the medication group (25 months, 95% CI 12-38). Although the results need confirmation by further, more robust studies, the long-term superiority of integrated treatment over medication alone was large. Patients with OCD might have viable options other than long-term drug treatment.

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