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The UK Tackles Depression With Online Therapy

September 02, 2009 03:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
A British study highlights the effectiveness of online psychological therapy for the treatment of depression, underlining the benefits of wider access to treatment without the use of antidepressants.

Online Therapy Gains Momentum in the UK

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For many people, the idea of seeing a therapist to treat depression is in itself anxiety-inducing. The U.K., however, offers the same kind of help and support through the Web. A study of online cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, showed that online psychotherapy “more than doubled the chances of recovery,” Emma Wilkinson reports for the BBC.

Dr. MG Lazarus of ProvenTherapy.com, an online psychotherapy and counseling clinic, believes that psychological anonymity and accessibility are the key factors that make online therapy attractive to patients. “Clients feel less intimidated, non-embarrassed and uninhibited while taking online therapy, which is what the very first challenge of a therapist giving face to face session,” PRLog reports.

According to findings reported by the BBC, “One in six people experience depression at some point in their lives.” The recent Lancet study “compar[ed] real-time online therapy sessions with normal GP care,” and discovered that “those receiving online treatment were 2.4 times more likely to have recovered eight months later,” Wilkinson writes. During online sessions, doctors and patients communicate through instant messaging, a process that also benefits those who prefer writing their thoughts down rather than talking about them.

Dr. David Kessler, leader of the study, is confident about the benefits of online CBT, a method that makes therapy widely available to the public. “Real-time online cognitive behavioral therapy offers the flexibility and responsiveness of face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy and is appropriate for people with severe symptoms,” he said, according to Reuters.

Even though CBT has proven to be effective in the treatment of depression, it is not easy to access in the U.K. Dr. Kessler strongly believes that the NHS, the U.K.’s publicly funded health service, should endorse an online approach to therapy as an extremely beneficial alternative for the treatment of depression.

Opinion & Analysis: Is online therapy reliable?

Up to this point, the treatment of depression has relied heavily on prescription antidepressants, which have “increase[ed] almost two-fold in a decade, from 18,424,473 in 1998 to 35,960,500 last year,” the BBC reports. Although the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends the use of psychological therapy rather than medication for cases of mild to moderate depression, and a combination of both for the treatment of more severe cases, professionals in the field often feel that “the NHS is doubting the efficacy of counseling and psychotherapy for depression,” Angela Hussain writes for Psychminded.

As Hussain explains, the revised guidelines published by NICE state that patients should be warned about the “‘uncertainty’ of the effectiveness of counselling and short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy for depression.”

In an article for the International Society for Mental Health Online, Craig Childress outlines a series of potential risks that could be associated with online psychological intervention. Among the problems he identifies are possible miscommunication caused by the “loss of visual and auditory cues in text-based communication,” and difficulty on the part of the practitioner to make an accurate diagnosis.

Similarly, guidelines issued from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy advise potential patients to “ensure that the therapist is suitably trained and supervised and that they understand the contract they are agreeing to and the limitations of the service they are receiving,” Zosia Kmietowicz writes for BMJ, a British medical journal. As with any other Internet service, online therapy can be subject to fraud, making it important for patients to research appropriately before making a commitment.
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