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06-22 Online therapy shows promise for anxiety and depression

Posted in Research, Therapy, Treatment

Online therapy shows promise for anxiety and depression

Shopping, making reservations, gaming, keeping up with friends and family: Ask most people what they do online, the answer is likely to be one of those.

But receive psychotherapy? Shouldn’t that be done in an office somewhere?

Maybe not. A new study recently presented at the annual meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh may show the internet can be a powerful tool in treating anxiety and depression.

Getting therapy online

Researchers studied over 700 patients with depression and anxiety who entered the study via primary care medical offices affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Once in the study, the patients were randomly entered into one of three groups:

  • A group receiving traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) via their primary caregiver
  • A group with guided access via care managers to an eight-session computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT) program
  • A group with guided access to both the CCBT program and an internet support group available via smartphones and computers

After six months, the researchers examined their results. 83 percent of the patients who had access to the CCBT program started it, completing an average of five sessions. Most of the patients with access to the internet support group made use of it – 77 percent logged into the group at least once and nearly 50 percent left either posts or comments.

The researchers examined their results after an additional six months. The patients who had received the CCBT program reported their mood and symptoms had improved significantly, with greater improvements reported by patients who had completed more CCBT sessions. Patients in the group receiving both CCBT and access to the internet support group reported improvements as well, but patients who made use of the internet support group tended to report the greatest improvements.

Other studies have found similar results. A study published recently in the British Journal of Psychiatry found patients who participated in an internet-based CBT program showed greater improvements in panic reduction than those on a waiting list for psychiatric services. An additional study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found patients who received CBT online did as well, or better, than those who had face-to-face time with a therapist.

Benefits of CBT

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, psychotherapy – also known as “talk therapy” – treats mental illness by helping people better understand their disorders. Psychotherapy gives people tools and strategies that can help them both manage their symptoms and help them function normally. Although there are many different kinds of psychotherapy, CBT, a form of therapy in development since the 1960s, works by changing a person’s disordered thoughts and beliefs. Patients learn to recognize thought patterns and assumptions that are damaging, and change the behaviors those thoughts can trigger.

Receiving treatment

The idea of getting psychotherapy outside of a clinical setting isn’t so strange. Suicide hotlines have helped (and saved) many, and multiple studies have shown telephone therapy can be an effective tool for many people.

However, the medium is less important than the issue of receiving treatment, period. For example, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting 18 percent of the population – and only around one-third of the people with them get treatment. Meanwhile, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance states 14.8 million Americans are affected by major depressive disorder each year, and two out of three people with depressive disorders do not seek or receive treatment.

Both disorders are risky in adolescents. Untreated anxiety can balloon into crippling fears that affect a person’s ability to enjoy or interact in daily life. A White House Conference on Mental Health found depression causes over two-thirds of reported suicides every year. Sovereign Health’s rural Rancho San Diego facility offers residential treatment for adolescents aged 12 to 17. Our staff of caring professionals help their patients reach their full potential while addressing their underlying issues. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. 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’s 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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