Intensive Outpatient Treatment for OCD by Telehealth: Is it as effective as in-person therapy?

Research throughout the COVID pandemic suggested OCD symptoms were stable or improved for about two-thirds of individuals, with one-third experiencing worsening symptoms.

A recent publication in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders reported on the efficacy of intensive CBT telehealth for OCD during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two matched samples with 239 pre-COVID in-person (IP) and 239 COVID telehealth (TH) were compared for effectiveness in treating OCD and depressive symptoms. Both were found effective, with the TH group requiring an additional 2.6 treatment days. These findings reinforce our experience in treatment using telehealth, especially for individuals with complicated OCD who do not have access to IP treatment.

During the COVID pandemic, we had to scramble to help clients and patients progress in treatment for obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. Telehealth quickly became the best vehicle for intensive outpatient treatment delivery (IOP). Like other intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programs, we were concerned with privacy and efficacy. Pre-pandemic, we provided telehealth services for years, and we had accessed guidelines and continuing education training. We knew telehealth to be effective for many clients and patients following ethical guidelines. Pre-pandemic, we followed up with our IOP clients on homework or supervised exposure therapy in-home with adult clients or with children and adolescents and their parents. This telehealth experience provided our therapists with valuable skills using telehealth as an adjunct to in-person IOP when we could not get to their homes for in-vivo (real-time, real-life) exposure. We learned that clients and patients could continue treatment, and they continued to progress and find relief from intense, adverse emotional reactions to their set of triggers.

David L. Barnhart, EdD

Licensed Counselor – Supervisor

Board Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor

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David Barnhart

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