Online therapy

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: November 25th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Forget the proverbial psychiatrist’s leather couch. Now those suffering from mental illness can get treatment from the comfort of their own homes.

A new British study shows that texting or chatting online with a therapist in real time can be effective. The research findings could bring hope to millions of people living in remote areas where access to counseling is limited, including soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Researchers at the University of Bristol studied three-hundred patients who had been diagnosed with depression. One group was randomly selected to receive ten weekly online sessions of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Participants in the other group were told they were put on a waiting list for the online therapy and advised to continue seeing their doctor in the meantime.

The online sessions lasted fifty-five minutes, during which the patient sent instant messages back and forth with a therapist.

After four months, thirty-eight percent of the patients in the online group said they were cured of their depression, compared with twenty-four percent in the group receiving in-person therapy. The difference between recovery rates jumped even more after eight months, with forty-two percent in the online group and twenty-six in conventional therapy.

What accounts for the big difference? Some doctors speculate it may be because those receiving online help had to write out their feelings. The process could well have enhanced their awareness of their situation, helping them to heal.

Mental health experts say the bottom line is computer-based therapy means more effective treatment for anyone who needs it. And in their view, that’s a good thing.