In many cases, cognitive-behavioral therapy, CBT, is an effective method of treating, among other things, depression. In recent years and especially during the pandemic, many have received CBT treatment online. A large international meta-study where 76 other studies have been analyzed shows that CBT online works as well as traditional CBT.
In the study, researchers looked at which parts of treatment most effectively help with depression, which parts are less effective, and which can potentially harm patients during online CBT. The study concluded that the most important factor was how deep the depression was when the treatment started. The results were better in mild depression than severe.
An advantage of CBT online is the ability to treat more patients in one week, as a previous study from Karolinska Institutet showed. It’s also easier for some patients to interact online instead of having to travel long distances for each meeting.
“In the case of mild or moderate depression, the outcome of internet CBT is as good as in conventional CBT. For many, it is a great way to be able to absorb therapy without having to travel to the therapist. We also saw that it was particularly good for the elderly, which was not entirely expected”, says Cecilia Björkelund, professor of general medicine at the University of Gothenburg and one of the authors of studies, in a press release.
For the treatment to have any effect, the professionals need to communicate with the patient constantly. The treatment normally lasts for tens of weeks, and during that time, the therapist needs to constantly monitor the patient's condition to be certain that it improves instead of going in the wrong direction.
Online CBT can be exactly as effective as personal meetings as long as the treatments are carried out correctly. The researchers now hope that the results from their study can form the basis for recommendations for internet-based CBT.
“If you want to use Internet CBT in health care, the programs must be as well regulated as medication, but that is not the case today. With this study, we take a real step forward. On the one hand, the study maps what is most effective, and on the other hand, it provides knowledge about how we can design and adapt a treatment program's that best fit the patient's problems”, says Cecilia Björkelund.