Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Not Beneficial to Depression

By Natalia Rivera from Bogota, Colombia (Sadness) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Common

For people suffering from depression, cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT has long been deemed an effective and beneficial treatment option. When it comes to computerized therapy, however, a recent study suggests that online CBT has little or no benefits for depression victims.

The Study

Co-author of the study Simon Gilbody, professor of psychological medicine and health services at the University of York in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues recently published the results of this study in The BMJ.

CBT is a type of talk therapy which is aimed at helping people with mental health issues. The goal is to help people with depression overcome negative thoughts and behaviors that could be making the situation worse.

Past studies have found that the traditional type of cognitive behavioral therapy involving face-to-face interaction between the patient and clinician is beneficial for individuals with depression, particularly those with mild to moderate types.
Because of these benefits, there has been a large interest in computerized cognitive behavioral therapy or cCBT for depression, where the therapy is delivered to a person through an interactive computer program, rather than face-to-face.

In the United Kingdom, the National Institute of Health Care and Excellence recommends cCBT as a form of initial treatment for depression. It is thought that a lower intensity treatment for individuals with depression will help to improve patient access to psychological treatment options.

The main cCBT program was approved for treating mild to moderate depression by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. The program is called “Beating the Blues,” and it involves a patient engaging in an eight week course of interactive online therapy. The commercial program has also recently been introduced in the United States of America.

According to Dr. Gilbody and his team, there is limited evidence as to how effective and beneficial online cognitive behavioral therapy can be for patients with depression in a primary care setting. Most studies that assess the therapy have been done in specialty facilities or by researchers who have developed the programs themselves.

Comparing cCBT verses Standard Care

Researchers enrolled 691 people with depression into the study from all across England. The participants were randomly placed in one of three different groups: standard primary care, standard primary care with cCBT, and standard primary care with a program called MoodGYM program.

The cCBT program consisted of eight, one-hour sessions per week, while the MoodGYM program was comprised of up to six, one-hour sessions each week.
Both programs encouraged a patient to engage in cCBT practices in between online sessions and each patient was contacted once a week by a technician, supporting them in the program and encouraging them to keep going.

The researchers assessed each client’s age, gender, educational history, severity of depression and whether or not the individual received any antidepressant medications.

It was found that cCBT was ineffective due to low adherence by patients and lack of engagement when participating. Patients in the cCBT groups had no significant improvement in their depression.
Based upon these findings, the research team believes the guidelines for the use of cCBT for depression treatment need to be reviewed and redefined.


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