Internet-Based Self-Help for Trichotillomania: A Randomized Controlled Study Comparing Decoupling and Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Steffi Weidt, Richard Klaghofer, Alexa Kuenburg, Annette Beatrix Bruehl, Aba Delsignore, Steffen Moritz, Michael Rufer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Trichotillomania (TTM) is characterized by recurrent hair-pulling that results in substantial hair loss. A previous pilot study demonstrated that the online self-help intervention 'decoupling' (DC) might be effective at reducing hair-pulling symptoms, with a stronger effect than progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). We aimed to extend these findings using a more robust randomized clinical trial design, including diagnostic interviews by phone, a 6-month follow-up and e-mail support. Methods: One hundred five adults with TTM were recruited online and randomly allocated to either DC (n = 55) or PMR (n = 50). The intervention lasted 4 weeks, with severity of TTM assessed at 3 time points (before intervention, immediately after intervention and at the 6-month follow-up) using the Massachusetts General Hospital Hair-Pulling Scale (MGH-HPS). Both intention-to-treat and completer analyses were conducted. Results: Intention-to-treat analysis demonstrated highly significant and comparable symptom reductions (MGH-HPS) in both the DC and PMR groups (p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.31) that persisted through 6 months of follow-up. Participants' subjective appraisals favoured DC in some areas (e.g. greater satisfaction with DC than PMR). Completer analyses demonstrated the same pattern as the intention-to-treat analyses. Conclusions: Despite subjective appraisals in favour of DC, symptom reduction was comparable in the two groups. While the results suggest that even short Internet-based interventions like DC and PMR potentially help individuals with TTM, a partial effect of unspecific factors, like regression towards the mean, cannot be ruled out. Therefore, longitudinal studies with non-treated controls are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-367
Number of pages9
JournalPsychotherapy and Psychosomatics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Decoupling
  • Online intervention
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Self-help
  • Trichotillomania


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