Log on to treat depression

July 13, 2009

Those enterprising Aussies have potentially found a new treatment approach for depression. Researchers from the University of New South Wales have shown that Internet-based therapy programmes are as effective as face-to-face therapies.

Actually getting an appointment can be the first hurdle in treating depression so anything that offers instant access is worth investigating. They set up the Sadness programme which was based solely on email contact with a therapist. On average participants needed an average of only 111 minutes of contact with a therapist over an eight-week period, which is significantly less than other comparable treatment.

Social phobias and other anxiety disorders have been previously treated online, but this is a first. It has been assumed that depression would be more difficult because of the lack of motivation usually associated with the condition, but this is clearly not the case.

The programme consisted of six online lessons with weekly homework assignments and contact by email from a clinical psychologist. Evaluation of those who h ad completed the programme showed that more than a third (34 percent) no longer met the criteria to be diagnosed as depressed and that is a result similar to face-to-face therapy. A significant majority (82 percent) who completed a post-treatment questionnaire reported being either very satisfied or mostly satisfied with the overall program.

To me there are significant benefits to this idea. First, many people do not have easy access to qualified therapists either by means of lack of facilities in their area, lack of time to travel and see a therapist due to their work or lack of mobility. This, plus the fact it is still not easy for people to admit to wanting to see a mental health professional, make this a good step forward.

I know there is resistance to working online, but on a different tack I coach creative people by email and once they have experienced how easy and convenient it is they are usually converts. To be able to log on for a treatment programme in the privacy of your own home, and at a time that is convenient for you, is going to be attractive to many people.

More trials are to be set up, and I will keep you posted on whether this is an Aussie export that will successfully make it across the pond.


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