Online psychotherapy as good as visiting in person

Sydney, Aug 31 ( Online therapy to treat common mental disorders is just as effective as visiting a psychotherapist in person, says a new study.

Anxiety, social phobias and depression are conditions that respond well to clinician-supported internet-based treatments with participants recording recovery rates comparable to those in face-to-face therapy.

Moreover, the online sessions were significantly more cost-effective than traditional treatments and required as little as a quarter of time.

“In the Shyness Program 85 percent of participants recorded good improvement in their scores on measures of social phobia, and more than a third of depressed patients no longer met the criteria to be diagnosed as clinically depressed,” said Nick Titov, study co-author.

He conducted the studies with Gavin Andrews from University of New South Wales (UNSW) School of Psychiatry and The Virtual Clinic at the St Vincent’s Hospital here.

In the latest trial, a clinical psychologist spent just two hours by email with each patient over 10 weeks of the programme, about a quarter of the time a clinician would spend in traditional face-to-face treatments.

Titov said the online programmes represented a new cost-effective way of reaching people who are otherwise unable to access treatments, said a UNSW release.

He said the initial pilot investigations were so successful that participants were now being sought for new, larger trials of the Worry and Shyness programmes. The clinic expects to treat more than 1,200 people in online trials by the end of the year.

The paper is slated for publication this month in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.