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CBT mobile app shows promise in reducing relationship-focused OCD symptoms

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A recent study published in Heliyon highlighted the potential benefits of using a mobile app to reduce symptoms of relational obsessive-compulsive disorder. Unlike previous research focused on individual interventions, this study explored the impact of both partners simultaneously using a mobile application designed to target maladaptive beliefs associated with ROCD. The findings highlight the potential of technology-based interventions to strengthen relationships and promote mental well-being.

Healthy romantic relationships have been shown to have many benefits, including improved mental and physical health, increased subjective well-being, and greater self-esteem. However, people with pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as elevated symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), may struggle to maintain healthy relationships.

Relational obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD) is a specific presentation of OCD that can have a significant impact on couples’ well-being. It includes two main symptom presentations: relationship-focused obsessive-compulsive symptoms and partner-focused ones. These symptoms can lead to doubts, concerns, and insecurities related to the relationship or partner, causing distress and potentially damaging the relationship.

ROCD symptoms have been reported in various countries and can manifest in different types of relationships, not just romantic ones. These symptoms often involve intrusive thoughts, images, or urges related to partner suitability or the relationship, which are unwanted and distressing. Research has shown that ROCD symptoms can have detrimental effects on personal and relational well-being, leading to anxiety, negative affect, lowered self-esteem, relationship difficulties, and more.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) models suggest that maladaptive beliefs contribute to catastrophic interpretations of these intrusive experiences. In the case of ROCD, maladaptive beliefs related to OCD and relationship-specific concerns can lead to catastrophic appraisals of relationship-related intrusions, further worsening distress.

Previous studies have shown that CBT can effectively reduce OCD symptoms by challenging and changing maladaptive beliefs and behaviors. However, barriers such as treatment costs, stigma, and limited access to qualified therapists have hampered its widespread use. This is where internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) and mobile-delivered CBT apps come into play, providing accessibility and convenience to users.

The GGtude platform is one such CBT-based mobile platform that offers modules targeting various psychological symptoms, including ROCD. Previous research has shown its effectiveness in reducing symptoms in non-clinical, subclinical and clinical samples in different countries.

In this study, the researchers focused on the ROCD module of the GGtude platform, more precisely the “OCD.app – Anxiety, mood & sleep” module. The research was led by Milana Gorelik of Reichman University, Ohad Szepsenwol of Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and Guy Doron, director of the ROCD research unit at Reichman University and co-founder of GGtude Ltd, the company the origin of the application.

The study used a randomized controlled trial design, involving 103 romantic couples. Participants were randomly assigned to either the experimental group, which used the GGRO module for 15 days, or the control group, which did not use the module.

The study measured several variables, including ROCD symptoms, depression symptoms, attachment insecurity, relationship satisfaction, and sexual satisfaction. The evaluations were carried out at three times: before using the application, immediately after its use and one month after the intervention.

Couples using the app did not experience an increase in ROCD symptoms during the study period, unlike the control group. This suggests that the mobile app effectively prevented the escalation of ROCD symptoms in romantic relationships.

Likewise, while the control group experienced a decrease in their relationship satisfaction over the course of the study, this was not the case for the app users. This suggests that targeting maladaptive cognitions related to ROCD symptoms had a positive impact on relationship satisfaction.

Users of the app demonstrated significant reductions in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and ROCD cognitions. This indicates that the app intervention was successful in challenging and modifying maladaptive beliefs associated with ROCD symptoms.

Couples using the app showed lower levels of anxious attachment orientations at the 1-month follow-up, indicating a lasting effect of the intervention on attachment security. However, the app did not have a significant impact on sexual functioning, perhaps because it did not specifically target maladaptive beliefs related to sexual dysfunction.

Although the study yielded promising results, it is essential to recognize its limitations. The sample consisted of non-clinical couples with relatively low baseline symptom levels. Future research should explore the effectiveness of such interventions in clinical populations. Additionally, including an active control group using similar apps targeting beliefs unrelated to ROCD could provide more insight.

Despite these limitations, the study results have important theoretical and practical implications. It highlights the potential for mobile app interventions to improve resilience and satisfaction within romantic relationships by addressing maladaptive beliefs associated with ROCD. These findings align with cognitive-behavioral models of psychopathology that emphasize the role of maladaptive beliefs in the development and maintenance of psychological symptoms.

The study, “Promoting Couples’ Resilience to Relational Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ROCD) Symptoms Using a CBT-Based Mobile Application: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” was authored by Milana Gorelik, Ohad Szepsenwol and Guy Doron.

Gn Health

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