Group Therapy for Repeated Deliberate Self-Harm in Adolescents: Failure of Replication of a Randomized Trial

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Abstract

Objective:

To replicate a study, which found group therapy superior to routine care in preventing the recurrence of self-harming behavior in adolescents who had deliberately harmed themselves on at least two occasions.

Method:

Single blind study with parallel randomized groups undertaken in three sites in Australia. The primary outcome measure was repetition of self-harm, assessed on average after 6 and 12 months. Secondary outcome measures included suicidal ideation, psychiatric disorder, and service use.

Results:

Seventy-two adolescents aged 12 to 16 years (91% female subjects) were randomized to group therapy or routine care. Primary outcome data were available for 68 of the 72 randomized participants. More adolescents randomized to group therapy than those randomized to routine care had self-harmed by 6 months (30/34 versus 23/34, χ2 = 4.19, p =.04), and there was a statistically nonsignificant trend for this pattern to be repeated in the interval of 6 to 12 months (30/34 versus 24/34, χ2 = 3.24, p =.07). There were few differences between the treatment groups on secondary outcome measures, other than a trend for greater improvement over time on global symptom ratings among the experimental group compared with the control group.

Conclusions:

Our findings contradict those of the original study. Some differences in participant characteristics between the studies, along with less experience at the Australian sites in delivering the intervention, may have accounted for the different outcome. The benefit of group therapy for deliberate self-harm is unproven outside the environment in which it was originally developed.

Conclusions:

Clinical trial registration information-Group Psychotherapy to Reduce the Repetition of Self-Harm in Adolescents. URL: http://www.ANZCTR.org.au. Unique identifier: ACTRN12608000532303.

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