Background: The treatment of deliberate self-harm (parasuicide) remains limited in efficacy. Despite a range of psychosocial, educational and pharmacological interventions only one approach, dialectical behaviour therapy, a form of cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT), has been shown to reduce repeat episodes, but this is lengthy and intensive and difficult to extrapolate to busy clinical practice. We investigated the effectiveness of a new manual-based treatment varying from bibliotherapy (six self-help booklets) alone to six sessions of cognitive therapy linked to the booklets, which contained elements of dialectical behaviour therapy.
Methods: Thirty-four patients, aged between 16 and 50, seen after an episode of deliberate self-harm, with personality disturbance within the flamboyant cluster and a previous parasuicide episode within the past 12 months, were randomly assigned to treatment with manual-assisted cognitive-behaviour therapy (MACT N = 18) or treatment as usual (TAU N = 16). Assessment of clinical symptoms and social function were made at baseline and repeated by an independent assessor masked to treatment allocation at 6 months. The number and rate of all parasuicide attempts, time to next episode and costs of care were also determined.
Results: Thirty-two patients (18 MACT; 14 TAU) were seen at follow-up and 10 patients in each group (56% MACT and 71% TAU) had a suicidal act during the 6 months. The rate of suicidal acts per month was lower with MACT (median 0.17/month MACT; 0.37/month TAU; P = 0.11) and self-rated depressive symptoms also improved (P = 0.03). The treatment involved a mean of 2.7 sessions and the observed average cost of care was 46% less with MACT (P = 0.22).
Conclusions: Although limited by the small sample, the results of this pilot study suggest that this new form of cognitive-behaviour therapy is promising in its efficacy and feasible in clinical practice.