Cognitive-behavior therapy, sertraline, and their combination for children and adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder: the Pediatric OCD Treatment Study (POTS) randomized controlled trial

JAMA. 2004 Oct 27;292(16):1969-76. doi: 10.1001/jama.292.16.1969.


Context: The empirical literature on treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children and adolescents supports the efficacy of short-term OCD-specific cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) or medical management with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. However, little is known about their relative and combined efficacy.

Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of CBT alone and medical management with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor sertraline alone, or CBT and sertraline combined, as initial treatment for children and adolescents with OCD.

Design, setting, and participants: The Pediatric OCD Treatment Study, a balanced, masked randomized controlled trial conducted in 3 academic centers in the United States and enrolling a volunteer outpatient sample of 112 patients aged 7 through 17 years with a primary Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition diagnosis of OCD and a Children's Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (CY-BOCS) score of 16 or higher. Patients were recruited between September 1997 and December 2002.

Interventions: Participants were randomly assigned to receive CBT alone, sertraline alone, combined CBT and sertraline, or pill placebo for 12 weeks.

Main outcome measures: Change in CY-BOCS score over 12 weeks as rated by an independent evaluator masked to treatment status; rate of clinical remission defined as a CY-BOCS score less than or equal to 10.

Results: Ninety-seven of 112 patients (87%) completed the full 12 weeks of treatment. Intent-to-treat random regression analyses indicated a statistically significant advantage for CBT alone (P = .003), sertraline alone (P = .007), and combined treatment (P = .001) compared with placebo. Combined treatment also proved superior to CBT alone (P = .008) and to sertraline alone (P = .006), which did not differ from each other. Site differences emerged for CBT and sertraline but not for combined treatment, suggesting that combined treatment is less susceptible to setting-specific variations. The rate of clinical remission for combined treatment was 53.6% (95% confidence interval [CI], 36%-70%); for CBT alone, 39.3% (95% CI, 24%-58%); for sertraline alone, 21.4% (95% CI, 10%-40%); and for placebo, 3.6% (95% CI, 0%-19%). The remission rate for combined treatment did not differ from that for CBT alone (P = .42) but did differ from sertraline alone (P = .03) and from placebo (P<.001). CBT alone did not differ from sertraline alone (P = .24) but did differ from placebo (P = .002), whereas sertraline alone did not (P = .10). The 3 active treatments proved acceptable and well tolerated, with no evidence of treatment-emergent harm to self or to others.

Conclusion: Children and adolescents with OCD should begin treatment with the combination of CBT plus a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or CBT alone.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / therapy*
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Sertraline / therapeutic use*


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Sertraline