Objective: The aims were (a) to test the effectiveness of a nurse-led cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program to assist adjustment in the early stages of multiple sclerosis (MS) and (b) to determine moderators of treatment including baseline distress, social support (SS), and treatment preference.
Method: Ninety-four ambulatory people with MS within 10 years of diagnosis were randomized to receive 8 individual sessions of CBT (n = 48) or supportive listening (n = 46), most delivered on the telephone, in a multicenter randomized controlled trial. The primary outcomes were distress and functional impairment. Secondary outcomes included global improvement, acceptance of illness, and dysfunctional cognitions. Assessments were completed at home and were coordinated by a blind assessor. Data were analyzed by intention-to-treat using multilevel models.
Results: The CBT group was significantly less distressed at the end of treatment (estimated General Health Questionnaire group difference = 3.2 points, 95\% CI 1.1 to 5.4 points) and at the 12-month follow-up (estimated group difference = 2.2 points, 95\% CI 0.01 to 4.4 points). There were no differences between the groups on functional impairment. The CBT group also demonstrated significantly greater improvements on secondary outcomes at the end of treatment but not at the 12-month follow-up. CBT participants with poor SS and/or clinically defined levels of distress at baseline showed significantly greater gains on both primary outcomes. Treatment preference did not moderate treatment effects.
Conclusion: CBT is more effective than supportive listening in reducing distress in people with MS. CBT appears most effective for patients with poor SS and high levels of distress. The loss of gains in the secondary outcomes by 12 months suggests further follow-up sessions may be warranted.