Is online therapy for depression effective?

Drugs

An analysis of over 80 studies investigates the potential effectiveness of online therapy for depression in comparison to traditional, in-person sessions. 

The current COVID-19 pandemic initiated changes to many industries, including the medical field.  When the pandemic first started, many private healthcare providers exchanged in-person office visits for remote appointments.  Given that COVID-19 is still a pressing global issue, many providers still offer remote healthcare as an alternative to traditional services. 

In particular, many mental healthcare providers and therapists began helping individuals through sessions over telephone and video calls.  Improvements in technology also allowed for the development of digital mental health platforms, including various apps, websites, and more.1  Maintaining access to mental health services is particularly important, considering that living through a global pandemic and experiencing the challenges that come with it, can be difficult to cope with. 

Depression is a common mental health condition, as the World Health Organization estimates that roughly five percent of adults suffer from depression globally.2  It is also among one of the leading causes of global disease burden, as depressive disorders can significantly impact one’s quality of life and lead to a variety of other complications.3  With the external stressors associated with living through a global pandemic, developing effective online therapy for depression is especially important. 

To investigate which types of online therapy for depression are most effective, a group of researchers collected data from over 80 studies regarding digital treatment interventions.1  The finished meta-analysis was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin of the American Psychological Association. 

For this analysis, researchers searched through the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials.1  The studies in the analysis consisted of those including participants of any age who experienced symptoms of depressive disorders.

Researchers found that digital platforms that offered the direct guidance of therapists had a greater effect than those that offered self-help suggestions.  However, the study found no significant differences in effectiveness when comparing different delivery methods, such as in-person therapies, mobile apps, and computer resources.1

The results of this research suggest that platforms offering direct connections to registered therapists and mental health professionals may have a greater impact than those that do not; however, more research is needed to confirm this relationship.  Moreover, further research is needed to establish whether or not there is actually any difference in effectiveness between different delivery methods, since a relatively small sample size was used. 

References

  1. Moshe, I., Terhorst, Y., Philippi, P., et al (2021). Digital Interventions for the Treatment of Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological BulletinDoi: 10.1037/bul0000334
  2. World Health Organization (2021, September 13). Depression. World Health Organization. Accessed 2021, December 14, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
  3. COVID-19 Mental Disorders Collaborators (2021, October 8). Global prevalence and burden of depressive and anxiety disorders in 204 countries and territories in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lancet 398(10312): p1700-1712. Doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(21)02143-7
  4. Image by 8212733 from Pixabay 

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