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Psychol Med. 2018 Jul;48(10):1644-1654. doi: 10.1017/S0033291717003129. Epub 2017 Nov 2.

Stepped care in primary care - guided self-help and face-to-face cognitive behavioural therapy for common mental disorders: a randomized controlled trial.

Author information

Department of Clinical Neuroscience,Division of Psychology,Karolinska Institutet,Stockholm,Sweden.
Department of Neurobiology,Care Sciences and Society (NVS),H1, Division of Family Medicine,Karolinska Institutet,Stockholm,Sweden.
Department of Clinical Neuroscience,Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Karolinska Institutet,Stockholm,Sweden.



Common mental disorders (CMD) cause large suffering and high societal costs. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can effectively treat CMD, but access to treatment is insufficient. Guided self-help (GSH) CBT, has shown effects comparable with face-to-face CBT. However, not all patients respond to GSH, and stepping up non-responders to face-to-face CBT, could yield larger response rates. The aim was to test a stepped care model for CMD in primary care by first evaluating the effects of GSH-CBT and secondly, for non-responders, evaluating the additional effect of face-to-face CBT.


Consecutive patients (N = 396) with a principal disorder of depression, anxiety, insomnia, adjustment or exhaustion disorder were included. In Step I, all patients received GSH-CBT. In Step II, non-responders were randomized to face-to-face CBT or continued GSH. The primary outcome was remission status, defined as a score below a pre-established cutoff on a validated disorder-specific scale.


After GSH-CBT in Step I, 40% of patients were in remission. After Step II, 39% of patients following face-to-face CBT were in remission compared with 19% of patients after continued GSH (p = 0.004). Using this stepped care model required less than six therapy sessions per patient and led to an overall remission rate of 63%.


Stepped care can be effective and resource-efficient to treat CMD in primary care, leading to high remission rates with limited therapist resources. Face-to-face CBT speeded up recovery compared with continued GSH. At follow-ups after 6 and 12 months, remission rates were similar in the two groups.


Adjustment Disorder; Anxiety; CBT; Common Mental Disorders; Depression; Exhaustion Disorder; Face-to-Face CBT; Guided Self-Help; Insomnia; Primary Care; Stepped care

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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