Background: Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy (CBT) are first-line treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Since response is often inadequate, in recent years researchers investigated whether combining CBT and SRIs, either ab initio or sequentially, results in a greater reduction of obsessivecompulsive symptoms.
Objective: The aims of the present paper are to assess if combination treatment seems adding benefits as compared to either monotherapy alone and if sequential strategies may be effective in converting partial or non responders to a first-line treatment into responders.
Method: We reviewed available literature on pharmacological and CBT combination and sequential treatments for adult and pediatric OCD patients and then we conducted a separate analysis for studies concerning these two promising strategies. Search results included openlabel trials and randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
Results: We identified ten controlled studies assessing the efficacy of combination treatments ab initio versus CBT alone and six evaluating combination strategies ab initio versus medications alone. Eleven studies, only two of which were RCTs, have been published on sequential treatments. The combination ab initio of CBT and SRIs has not been found to be clearly superior to either monotherapy alone in most studies conducted on this topic, except for patients with severe depression who might benefit more from the combination versus only CBT. A sequential administration of CBT after medications has been found useful in promoting remission in patients who partially responded to drugs and in promoting response in resistant patients.
Conclusion: OCD patients with comorbid major depression should receive medication firstly, eventually associated with CBT; for all remaining patients there is clear evidence from the literature of no additive benefits of combining ab initio CBT and medication. Therefore, the routine use of a combination approach in all adult patients affected by OCD is not supported by the literature. The available evidence supports the effectiveness of the sequential addition of CBT to SRIs.
Keywords: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy, augmentation treatment, combination treatments, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, treatment-resistant OCD, exposure and response prevention.