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Behavioural and cognitive behavioural therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder in children

Published on 20th August 2012



This is an update of a Cochrane Review first published in The Cochrane Library in Issue 4, 2006.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children and adolescents is characterised by persistent intrusive thoughts, inappropriate impulses or images which cause marked anxiety, and/or by persistent repetitive behaviours such as hand washing, checking and ordering. Along with antidepressant medication, behavioural or cognitive-behavioural therapy (BT/CBT) is recommended as the treatment of choice for paediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).


This review examines the overall efficacy of BT/CBT for paediatric OCD, its relative efficacy against medication and whether there are benefits in using BT/CBT combined with medication.

Search methods

We searched CCDANCTR-Studies,CCDANCTR-References (16/3/2009), MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, national trials registers, reference lists of all selected studies and handsearched journals related to cognitive behavioural treatment of OCD.

Selection criteria

Included studies were randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials trials with participants 18 years of age or younger with a diagnosis of OCD, established by clinical assessment or standardised diagnostic interview. Reviewed studies included standard behavioural or cognitive-behavioural techniques, either alone or in combination, compared with wait-list, attention placebo, pill placebo or medication.

Data collection and analysis

The quality of selected studies was assessed independently by two review authors. Using Review Manager software, weighted mean differences were calculated for the total severity of OCD symptoms at post treatment and relative risks for having OCD at post treatment.

Main results

Eight studies with 343 participants were included. The review found evidence for lower post-treatment OCD severity and reduced risk of continuing with OCD for the BT/CBT group compared to pill placebo or wait-list comparisons. There was no evidence found that the efficacy of BT/CBT alone and medication alone differ in terms of post treatment symptom severity or in the risk of having OCD. There was some evidence of a benefit for combined BT/CBT and medication compared to medication alone but not relative to BT/CBT alone. The low rates of drop out suggested BT/CBT is an acceptable treatment to child and adolescent patients and their families.

Authors' conclusions

Although only based on a small number of studies which vary in quality, behavioural or cognitive-behaviour therapy alone appears to be an effective treatment for OCD in children and adolescents. It is as effective as medication alone and may lead to better outcomes when combined with medication compared to medication alone. Additional higher quality trials are needed to confirm these findings.



O'Kearney RT, Anstey K, von Sanden C, Hunt A. Behavioural and cognitive behavioural therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD004856. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004856.pub2.


Keywords: CBT, children, adolescents, OCD


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