Computer-assisted cognitive behavioral therapy probably won’t replace standard person-to-person therapy any time soon, new research suggests.
The British study found that people did not follow through on computer-assisted therapy. Fewer than one in five completed six computer sessions, the researchers reported.
Cognitive behavioral therapy — a form of talk therapy — is an effective treatment for depression. However, in-person therapy is not always available, so computer-assisted therapy was developed as a substitute.
But until now, the effectiveness of computer-assisted therapy hadn’t been studied.
The study included almost 700 British patients with depression who were randomly assigned to receive either standard care from their doctor or standard care with one of two computer-assisted therapy packages — one a commercial product and the other a free online product.
The computer-assisted therapy programs offered either six or eight one-hour sessions, respectively. Both programs also encouraged patients to do homework between the sessions.
The study found that computer-assisted therapy packages offered little or no benefit over standard care. After four months, 44 percent of patients in the standard care group were still depressed. Fifty percent of those in the commercial product group, and 49 percent of those in the free online product group remained depressed, the study reported.
The findings were published this week in the journal BMJ.
The main reason for the low levels of success with computer-assisted therapy packages may have been that many patients didn’t use them, the researchers said. Only 18 percent of those in the commercial product group completed all eight sessions, and only 16 percent of those in the online product group completed all six sessions. Nearly one-quarter of patients dropped out of the study by four months.
The study showed that patients were “generally unwilling to engage with computer programs, and highlighted the difficulty in repeatedly logging on to computer systems when clinically depressed,” wrote Simon Gilbody, professor of psych medicine at the University of York, and his colleagues.
“Participants wanted a greater level of clinical support as an adjunct to therapy, and in absence of this support, they commonly disengaged with the computer programs,” the researchers explained.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about therapy and counseling for mental health.