Heterogeneity of Treatment Effects in a Randomized Trial of Literacy-Adapted Group Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Pain Psychoeducation, and Usual Medical Care for Multiply Disadvantaged Patients With Chronic Pain


      • More disadvantaged patients benefited more from cognitive-behavioral therapy.
      • Patients with higher literacy benefited from both psychosocial treatments.
      • Patients with higher working memory benefited from both psychosocial treatments.
      • Patients with higher education benefited from both psychosocial treatments.
      • Simplifying cognitive-behavioral therapy reduces outcome disparities.


      Differences among patients can moderate the impact of evidence-based treatments (ie, heterogeneity of treatment effects), leading patients to get more or less benefit. The Learning About My Pain study was a randomized, comparative effectiveness trial of a 10-week literacy-adapted group cognitive-behavioral therapy for chronic pain (CBT) versus pain psychoeducation groups (EDU) versus usual medical care. We examined potential sociodemographic and cognitive moderators of treatment effect among participants with post-treatment assessments (N = 241). Analyses were conducted using moderation in the PROCESS macro in SPSS and significant interactions were explored further. Education and primary literacy moderated the difference between CBT and EDU on pain intensity, and primary literacy, health literacy, and working memory moderated the difference between CBT and EDU on pain interference. Analyses revealed few significant moderation effects relative to usual medical care. No moderators were identified for depression. Neither sex nor minority status moderated any differences between groups. Patients with lower education, literacy, and working memory gained more benefit from CBT than EDU. When provided sufficient guidance and structure in a way that is meaningfully adapted, highly disadvantaged patients achieved as much benefit as less disadvantaged patients, suggesting that the literacy-adapted CBT more successfully met the needs of this population.

      Trial registration identifier NCT01967342


      This article presents findings related to heterogeneity of treatment effects for simplified group psychosocial treatments for chronic pain. The results suggest that educationally, cognitively, or literacy disadvantaged patients benefit most from the more structured approach of literacy-adapted CBT rather than EDU, whereas less disadvantaged patients benefit from either treatment.

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