• implantable cardioverter defibrillator;
  • randomized controlled trials;
  • psychological interventions


The implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is the first-line treatment for primary and secondary prevention of sudden cardiac death. A subgroup of patients experience psychological distress postimplant, and no clear evidence base exists regarding how best to address patients’ needs. The aim of this critical review is to provide an overview of behavioral interventions in ICD patients to date, and to delineate directions for future research using lessons learned from the ongoing RISTA and WEBCARE trials.


We searched the PubMed and PsycInfo databases to identify reports of behavioral trials targeting distress and related factors in ICD patients published between 1980 and April 2012.


We identified 17 trials for the review. Generally, compared to usual care, behavioral interventions were associated with reduced anxiety and depression and improved physical functioning, with effect sizes ranging from small to moderate-large (0.10–1.79 for anxiety; 0.23–1.20 for depression). Important limitations were small sample sizes and potential selection bias, hampering generalizability of the results. In addition to a need for larger trials, experiences from the RISTA and WEBCARE trials suggest that intervention trials tailored to the individual patient may be the way forward.


Behavioral interventions show promise with respect to reducing distress in ICD patients. Large-scale intervention trials targeted to the individual needs and preferences of patients are warranted, as a “one size fits all” approach is unlikely to work for all ICD patients.