Therapist differences in a randomised trial of the outcome of cognitive behaviour therapy for health anxiety in medical patients

Int J Nurs Stud. 2015 Mar;52(3):686-94. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2014.11.013. Epub 2014 Dec 4.


Background: Health anxiety is common in medical settings and can be treated successfully by cognitive behaviour therapy. However it is not clear who might be best placed to deliver this therapy.

Objectives: In a planned secondary analysis of data from a randomised trial of adapted cognitive behaviour therapy for health anxiety we compared outcomes of therapy delivered by nurses and other professional groups.

Design: A randomised controlled trial with two treatment arms, 5-10 sessions of cognitive behaviour therapy adapted health anxiety or standard care.

Setting: Cardiology, endocrine, gastroenterology, neurological and respiratory clinics in six general hospitals in the UK covering urban, suburban and rural areas.

Participants: Medical patients attending the clinics who had pathological health anxiety and also scored for a diagnosis of hypochondriasis.

Methods: Patients were randomised to one of two treatment arms, 5-10 sessions of cognitive behaviour therapy adapted health anxiety or standard care delivered by naive therapists (not randomised) who were trained in advance before delivering the treatment. Independent assessment of outcomes by researchers masked to allocation status at 3m, 6m, 12m and 24m.

Results: 444 patients were randomised in the trial, 219 to cognitive behaviour therapy adapted health anxiety and 225 to standard care. 373 (84%) completed assessments after two years. Those treated by nurses (n=66) had improvement in health anxiety, generalised anxiety and depression outcomes that were significantly better and twice as great as those of the professional groups of assistant psychologists (n=87) and graduate workers (n=66) (P<0.01 over all time points). The number needed to treat to show superiority of nurse-delivered treatment over other treatment delivery was 4 at 6 months and 6 at one year.

Conclusion: General nurses, after suitable training, are very effective therapists for patients with health anxiety in medical clinics and should be the therapists of choice for patients in these settings.

Keywords: Cognitive behaviour therapy; Depression; Generalised anxiety; Health anxiety; Hypochondriasis; Medical out-patients; Outcomes; Randomised controlled trial; Social functioning.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy* / education
  • Humans
  • Nurses*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Workforce