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OCD online therapy showing positive results

16 October, 2012

Early results from a trial by researchers into treating people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) through an online therapy program are showing positive outcomes.

The research is being conducted at Swinburne University of Technology's Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre and National eTherapy Centre.

OCD is an anxiety disorder that affects more than 450,000 Australians, and those with OCD can be besieged by intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images or impulses, and are compelled to perform behavioural and mental rituals.

Professor Michael Kyrios, Director, Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre, said researchers have found that online treatment for a range of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can be as effective as face-to-face therapy.

Early results indicate that this trial will follow the trend and demonstrate that online therapy is an effective form of treatment for OCD.

"Obsessions and compulsions are distressing, exhausting and time consuming, and cause significant interference in the sufferer's family and social relationships, daily routines, and their capacity to fulfil their goals in employment and education," Professor Kyrios said.

"Initial results from the trial so far have been positive, indicating that people who have completed the treatment do as well as those who undergo face-to-face treatment."

Participants in the trial, which is funded by a $320,000 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), have access to free online treatment including assistance in the form of email contact with a qualified therapist.

The 12-week program is delivered through Anxiety Online, an online assessment and treatment clinic run by Swinburne's National eTherapy Centre.

"We wanted to find out who did well, who was experiencing symptom improvement and who didn't, who dropped out because it didn't do anything for them, who didn't respond," Professor Kyrios said.

"These are the questions that are tied up in this trial and will be important in helping us develop this into the future."

Professor Kyrios said access to online therapy services can benefit not only those living in remote and regional Australia, but those living in cities who are poor or may not have adequate access to mental health services.

"OCD is actually quite prevalent in our society, however, the sad fact is that many people either don't have access to effective mental health treatments or aren't comfortable seeking help face to face due to the social stigma associated with mental illness, so they opt for online treatment," Professor Kyrios said.

Participants in the trial are randomly assigned to one of two groups, those undertaking a cognitive behavioural treatment program called Systematic Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Phenomena or OCD-STOP, and those completing Progressive Relaxation Training.

Irrespective of which program they are assigned, all individuals will be given the opportunity to take the alternative treatment at no cost. The trial is confidential and participants can still see their own psychologist while taking part.

Researchers are looking for more people with OCD to take part in the trial, which finishes in late 2013. If you are interested in participating go to the website and send an email.

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