Online Video Teletherapy Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Using Exposure and Response Prevention: Clinical Outcomes From a Retrospective Longitudinal Observational Study

J Med Internet Res. 2022 May 19;24(5):e36431. doi: 10.2196/36431.


Background: Exposure and response prevention, a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, is an effective first-line treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Despite extensive evidence of the efficacy of exposure and response prevention (ERP) from clinical studies and in real-world samples, it is still underused as a treatment. This is likely due to the limits to access to care that include the availability of adequately trained therapists, as well as geographical location, time, and cost barriers. To address these, NOCD created a digital behavioral health treatment for OCD using ERP delivered via video teletherapy and with technology-assisted elements including app-based therapy tools and between-session therapist messaging.

Objective: We examined treatment outcomes in a large naturalistic sample of 3552 adults with a primary OCD diagnosis who received NOCD treatment.

Methods: The treatment model consisted of twice-weekly, live, face-to-face video teletherapy ERP for 3 weeks, followed by 6 weeks of once-weekly brief video teletherapy check-ins for 30 minutes. Assessments were conducted at baseline, at midpoint after completion of 3 weeks of twice-weekly sessions, and at the end of 6 weeks of brief check-ins (endpoint). Longitudinal assessments were also obtained at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months after endpoint.

Results: Treatment resulted in clinically and statistically significant improvements, with a 43.4% mean reduction in obsessive-compulsive symptoms (g=1.0; 95% CI 0.93 to 1.03) and a 62.9% response rate. Treatment also resulted in a 44.2% mean reduction in depression, a 47.8% mean reduction in anxiety, and a 37.3% mean reduction in stress symptoms. Quality of life improved by a mean of 22.7%. Reduction in OCD symptoms and response rates were similar for those with mild, moderate, or severe symptoms. The mean duration of treatment was 11.5 (SD 4.0) weeks, and the mean total therapist time was 10.6 (SD 1.1) hours. Improvements were maintained at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months.

Conclusions: In this sample, representing the largest reported treated cohort of patients with OCD to date, video teletherapy treatment demonstrated effectiveness in reducing obsessive-compulsive and comorbid symptoms and improved quality of life. Further, it achieved meaningful results in less than half the total therapist time compared with standard once-weekly outpatient treatment, an efficiency that represents substantial monetary and time savings. The effect size was large and similar to studies of in-person ERP. This technology-assisted remote treatment is readily accessible for patients, offering an advancement in the field in the dissemination of effective evidence-based care for OCD.

Keywords: CBT; ERP; EX/RP; OCD; app based; clinical outcome; clinical outcomes; cognitive therapy; cognitive-behavioral therapy; comorbid symptom; comorbidities; comorbidity; digital behavioral health; digital health; exposure and ritual prevention; health app; mHealth; messaging; mobile health; obsessive compulsive; obsessive compulsive disorder; online therapy; patient outcome; remote therapy; symptom; technology assisted; telehealth; telemedicine; teletherapy; video therapy; virtual therapy.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy* / methods
  • Humans
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder* / therapy
  • Quality of Life
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome