Self-harm (SH) is among the strongest risk factors for eventual suicide death yet there are limited data on which interventions are most effective for treating SH in youth.
This single-blind, pilot randomized controlled trial examined brief cognitive behavioral therapy (BCBT) for suicide prevention vs. minimally-directive supportive psychotherapy in youth (aged 16–26) hospitalized following SH. Both therapies included 10 acute sessions over 15 weeks with three booster sessions occurring at three month intervals thereafter. The primary feasibility outcome was ≥70% retention at study endpoint. Efficacy measures, including repeat SH, were secondary outcomes.
Twenty-four subjects were enrolled (12 per group) with one BCBT subject and two controls dropping out prior to the first therapy session. Five (45%) of the remaining BCBT subjects and seven (70%) control subjects completed all 10 acute therapy sessions. All subjects who completed five sessions went on to complete 10. There were significantly fewer instances of repeat SH in BCBT subjects (7 of 62 weeks of acute follow-up; 11%) compared to control subjects (24 of 79 weeks; 30%)(OR 0.34, 95%CI:0.13–0.92). Three subjects, all in the control condition, made a total of five suicide attempts during the study.
This study had a modest sample size and retention rate.
This study failed to achieve its primary feasibility retention goal for BCBT. However, it did demonstrate that initial adherence to follow-up predicted study completion. Despite small numbers, it also found a significant reduction in repeat SH in the BCBT group, a finding which requires replication.