This experiment is part of the Mental Health Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Predicting and improving persistence during exposure-based therapy for OCD

Raised of $3,975 Goal
Funded on 2/09/17
Successfully Funded
  • $4,129
  • 103%
  • Funded
    on 2/09/17

About This Project

The efficacy of exposure-based therapies for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is among the most well-established findings in clinical psychology. Yet non-response rates are still alarmingly high, with 40% of patients either quitting early or not benefiting. This project will test two theoretically plausible predictors of OCD patients' persistence during treatment, and whether modifying one or both factors can improve treatment outcomes.

Ask the Scientists

Join The Discussion

What is the context of this research?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms affect as many as 1 in 4 people and are often extremely debilitating. The gold-standard treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP), which involves willingly confronting situations one finds distressing (e.g., a dirty, grimy toilet) and resisting the urge to ritualize (e.g., wash one's hands) in response. ERP works extremely well for most patients who get through it successfully; yet 20% of patients drop out early, and another 20% "fail" to benefit. Thus more work is needed to understand why ERP works for some patients and not others, and to improve or tailor our treatment approaches accordingly.

What is the significance of this project?

The success of ERP hinges on patients' ability to exercise self-control in the face of powerful urges to act on their compulsions. Yet self-control is likely impaired in OCD, making this especially difficult. This project will aim to enhance ERP treatment outcomes by strengthening 2 facets of self-control: autonomous motivation (i.e., tying ERP to one's freely chosen goals and values) and working memory (i.e., keeping goal-related information active in memory during a complex task). This will be the first test of whether modifying one or both factors can improve ERP outcomes, thus paving the way to more effective treatments for this debilitating disorder.

What are the goals of the project?

Our goal is to test 2 novel factors that we think may affect patients' ability to stick with, and ultimately benefit from, ERP treatment: their self-reported level of autonomous motivation for treatment, and their performance on a computerized working memory task. We will first test these factors in 100 OCD patients just starting ERP treatment at either a residential or outpatient facility. We will then randomly assign patients to either working memory (WM) training, motivation enhancement (ME), combination (WM+ME), or a placebo control (with "training" on an unrelated task), and will compare their effects on ERP adherence and symptom reduction over treatment.


Please wait...

The participant compensation funds will allow us to compensate patients for their time and energy in completing our assessment procedures, which will be crucial to recruiting and retaining our target sample of 100 participants.

The software licenses will allow us to run our study tasks at the treatment facility where patients will already be receiving care (e.g., McLean Hospital). Specifically, we need e-Prime to run our Operation Span working memory task, Inquisit 4 for the Monetary Choice delay-of-gratification task, and MATLAB for the Effort Discounting task (which measures participants' subjective appraisals of the costliness of effort).

The part-time research assistant compensation funds will allow us to hire a research assistant who is "blind" to intervention condition (unlike the primary investigator) and can travel to the study site at least 1x/week to administer the assessment measures for our study.

The laptop will give us more flexibility to run subjects on-site.

Endorsed by

This is an important line of research which might help us unlock access to treatment for patients who have failed to engage exposure and response prevention for OCD. This is essential because exposure therapy is known to be a very potent treatment, and yet many patients find it challenging to implement. There are likely to be findings that could have trans diagnostic utility as well. Gena Gorlin is a rising star and someone we would want to recruit to work in our organization. I have tremendous confidence in her ability as a clinical scientist.

Meet the Team

Gena Gorlin
Gena Gorlin
Postdoctoral fellow
Michael W. Otto
Michael W. Otto

Gena Gorlin

After a brief stint as an opera singer in training at the New England Conservatory, I realized that my creative proclivities were better channeled into the art and science of improving human psychological well-being. In 2008 I graduated summa cum laude from Tufts University with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and philosophy, and went on to gain additional experience as a research assistant and clinical interviewer in the Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatry department. In 2010 I began my doctoral studies in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia (UVA) under the mentorship of Dr. Bethany Teachman. There, I developed a program of research examining how cognitive and motivational mental processes interactively contribute to anxiety and related emotional disorders. My experimental research in these areas has yielded 10 peer-reviewed publications, a book chapter, and 14 talks and presentations at professional conferences. For my dissertation research I developed and tested a novel intervention strategy that promoted post-failure reengagement in goal-pursuit by targeting both motivational and cognitive mechanisms of rumination. I went on to complete my clinical psychology residency at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, where I worked with Drs. Mark Zimmerman and Kristy Dalrymple on research examining the psychosocial and psychiatric profiles of adults with cognitive deficits (specifically ADHD). Currently I am completing a postdoctoral fellowship under Dr. Michael Otto’s mentorship at Boston University, where I am conducting evidence-based psychotherapy at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD) and continuing to develop my own independent research program. My ultimate mission is to creatively bridge clinical science and practice to offer more innovative, individually tailored psychological treatments.

Michael W. Otto

I am a Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University. I have had a major career focus on developing and validating new psychosocial treatments for anxiety, mood, psychotic, and substance use disorders, with a particular focus on treatment refractory populations. This includes a translational research agenda investigating brain-behavior relationships in therapeutic learning. My focus on hard-to-treat conditions and principles underlying behavior-change failures led me to an additional focus on health behavior promotion, including investigations of addictive behaviors, medication adherence, sleep, and exercise. Across these health behaviors, I have been concerned with cognitive, attention, and affective factors that derail adaptive behaviors, and the factors that can rescue these processes. I also investigate exercise as an intervention for affective and addictive disorders, as well as for cognitive enhancement. I have over 400 publications spanning these research interests, and have been identified as a “top producer” in the clinical empirical literature, and an ISI Highly Cited Researcher. I am a Past President of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and am currently President of Division 12 of the American Psychological Association.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

Note: We plan to run this project at two local treatment facilities - the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD) at Boston University and the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute (OCDI) at McLean Hospital. Both facilities have excellent reputations for the evidence-based treatment of anxiety disorders, including OCD, and clinicians at both institutions have expressed a strong interest in collaborating on this research.

Project Backers

  • 52Backers
  • 103%Funded
  • $4,129Total Donations
  • $69.79Average Donation
Please wait...