It’s cost effective and time saving, but may not be the best alternative for all patients
Need help dealing with anxiety or depression, but don’t have the time or money for traditional psychotherapy? There could be an effective alternative: Reach out and touch a counselor by Internet, text messages or phone.
A few recent studies have found the approach may be beneficial for some patients.
Research published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found therapist-supported cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) delivered over the Internet appears to be an effective treatment option for anxiety in adults. In a study of children and adolescents, therapy delivered online or over the phone was found to help reduce chronic pain. And another study found phone or online counseling could help people with depression return to work sooner. All of the studies were small, and researchers pointed out that further study is needed.
Though some say efficient and cost-saving online therapy works well for them, experts caution that not all programs are created equal. Some services, like Breakthrough and Talkspace, use licensed therapists. Others utilize coaches or trained listeners, which worries some mental health experts who believe patients may be harmed if they think of trained listeners as reliable substitutes for mental health professionals.
And people who need help might not stick with the program. A randomized controlled trial with 691 depressed patients from 83 physician practices across England reports online programs aren’t as effective because depressed patients don’t engage with or remain in care over the long haul. According to the study’s authors, nearly 25 percent of participants dropped out within four months, and patients expressed frustration over the “difficulty in repeatedly logging on to computer systems when they are clinically depressed.”
Self-guided online therapy may still work for those who have relatively mild symptoms of depression or are in a recovery stage. But these services are not intended for and aren’t recommended for people with severe mental illness. Those patients should seek treatment from medical professionals in person.