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08-31 E-treatment: New online therapy methods hold promise

E-treatment: New online therapy methods hold promise

There’s a real stigma around mental health.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says mental illness affects 1 in 4 American adults each year, but most people with treatable mental disorders do not seek treatment. In fact, over half of the children aged 8 to 15 with a mental illness never receive treatment.

Some of that is simply due to costs. According to a paper published in Health Affairs in 2013, people with mental health problems were less likely to have private health insurance. Others might have difficulties physically getting to treatment, either due to transportation issues or living in an area where mental treatment isn’t widely available.

However, therapy is increasingly becoming available via the internet. But does it work?

Logging on for therapy

In 2013, a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found a potential role for internet-based therapy. Researchers examined 62 patients who had been diagnosed with depression. Half of the patients received traditional, face-to-face therapy with a live therapist once a week, along with a number of assignments they took home, such as keeping a list of negative thoughts. The other half received internet-based therapy, where they submitted written reports and received feedback from therapists. The patients who received the internet-based therapy never saw their therapist face-to-face.

Data from the study found no substantial differences in the results of the therapy. Patients in the face-to-face group had a 50 percent success rate; meanwhile, the patients in the internet-based therapy group had a 53 percent success rate. A greater difference was seen in a follow-up survey taken three months after the initial study – 57 percent of the patients in the internet-based group no longer had depressive symptoms, compared with 42 percent of the patients in the traditional group.

Another recent study showed artificially intelligent (AI) bots might even play a role in treatment.

A therapist who’s virtually easier to talk to

In the study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior in 2014, researchers from the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies sent almost 240 volunteers through a health screening given by an AI bot. Half of the participants were told the bot was controlled by a person; the other half were told the bot was entirely computer controlled.

Interestingly, the subjects who were told the bot was computer controlled were more candid in their responses and also seemed more willing to show their emotions. One of the volunteers in the second group was quoted in the study as saying, “This is way better than talking to a person. I don’t really feel comfortable talking about personal stuff to other people.”

Although these developments sound exciting, it’s worth considering the situation carefully.

Things to consider

The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests several things people should consider before beginning therapy with a text-based or online provider:

  • Is the therapist licensed in the state you live in? The APA cautions anyone can call themselves a “therapist” and/or “psychotherapist” in most states. Treatment from an unlicensed, unqualified provider can be harmful.
  • Is the site – or app – secure? Therapy often involves revealing intimate, private information. Make sure the service being used is fully HIPAA-compliant.
  • How is the service paid for? Most private insurers cover mental health – as does the Affordable Care Act – but a lot of web-based services aren’t covered. Check with your insurer before starting treatment.

It’s important to also remember not every tool works for every case. No solution is right for every patient in every situation. Some problems – particularly with adolescents – aren’t easy to treat and need longer-term, intensive treatment to be successful. Sovereign Health’s Rancho San Diego facility provides children aged 12 to 17 with a residential program aimed to help them with their problems and reach their full potential. Our compassionate treatment team uses evidence-based treatment modalities to ensure your teen has a lasting, successful recovery from mental illness, substance abuse and eating disorders. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for Sovereign Health. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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