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Online therapy effective, cheaper than in-person sessions for kids with OCD

Children with OCD may benefit from online-based therapy, which costs less than traditional, in-person sessions, according to a new study. Photo by offthelefteye/Pixabay
Children with OCD may benefit from online-based therapy, which costs less than traditional, in-person sessions, according to a new study. Photo by offthelefteye/Pixabay

July 30 (UPI) -- Children with obsessive-compulsive disorder benefit from regular sessions with professional therapists conducted virtually over the Internet, according to a study published Friday by JAMA Network Open.

The approach also provides significant cost savings over traditional, in-person cognitive behavioral therapy, the data showed.

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Of the children who participated in 14 online therapy sessions over a 16-week period, 68% were considered "treatment responders," meaning hey experienced a significant improvement in symptoms -- up to six months later, the researchers said.

A similar percentage of children who attended 14 in-person cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, sessions over a 16-week period also met the criteria for treatment responders.

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"Internet-based CBT, when provided in a stepped-care format, has comparable effects to traditional face-to-face therapy," study co-author Erik Andersson told UPI in an email.

"One advantage of the Internet format is that patients and their caregivers can work whenever it suits them during the day -- there is less need for parents taking time off work or children being absent from school due to therapist appointments," said Andersson, a clinical psychologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Approximately 500,000 children in the United States have obsessive-compulsive disorder, the International OCD Foundation estimates.

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Those with the disorder experience thoughts and fears, or obsessions, often focused on germs or the need to arrange objects in a specific manner. That leads to compulsive behaviors.

Although no drugs completely resolve these symptoms currently, children with OCD have benefited from CBT, particularly when there parents and caregivers are involved, according to Andersson and his colleagues.

However, CBT can be expensive, and in-person sessions may mean that parents have to miss work to take children to them and attend consultations with therapists, the researchers said.

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For this study, the Swedish researchers compared the effectiveness and cost of online versus in-person CBT in 151 children with OCD.

Children in the online-based program participated in 14 therapist-guided exercises that offered education on strategies for managing their symptoms, as well as recommendations for prevention and relapse avoidance.

The 74 children and their parents and caregivers in the online program could communicate directly with therapists via the program's built-in messaging system.

Meanwhile, the remaining 77 children -- and, as needed, their parents and caregivers -- attended 14 traditional, in-person CBT sessions.

Fifty of the 74 children in the online therapy group and 52 of the 77 in the traditional CBT group responded to treatment.

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The children and their families in the Internet-based program saw an average cost savings of about $2,100 over traditional CBT, both in terms of direct costs, as well as reductions in missed work for parents and caregivers, according to the researchers.

"The results ... suggest that most pediatric patients who suffer from OCD, are fully able to grasp and apply the principles of CBT to their own situation without seeing a face-to-face therapist each week," Andersson said.

"The digital format is a promising way to facilitate behavioral change in patients who suffer from OCD [and it] is also an intensive form of treatment," he said.

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