As technology advances the delivery of medical care, telemedicine over the Internet is seen by some as a way to improve access to care while reducing costs.
In many settings, online psychotherapy has taken the lead in providing this type of care.
Despite the obvious advantages, the central question of whether the online format is as effective as conventional face-to-face therapy has not been closely examined. But some preliminary studies have suggested the techniques are comparable.
Based on these earlier studies, University of Zurich researchers assumed that online therapy and face-to-face therapy were on a par.
Not only was their theory confirmed, the results for online therapy exceeded their expectations.
For the study, researchers reviewed the care provided by six therapists for 62 patients, the majority of whom were suffering from moderate depression.
The patients were divided into two equal groups and randomly assigned to one of the therapeutic forms.
The treatment consisted of eight sessions with different established techniques that stem from cognitive-behavior therapy and could be carried out both orally and in writing.
Patients treated online had to perform one predetermined written task per therapy unit – such as querying their own negative self-image. They were known to the therapist by name.
“In both groups, the depression values fell significantly,” said Andreas Maercker, M.D., Ph.D., summing up the results of the study.
At the end of the treatment, 53 percent of the patients who underwent online therapy – compared to 50 percent for face-to-face therapy – were not depressed.
Three months after completing the treatment, the depression in patients treated online continued to decrease whereas those treated conventionally stayed the same or even increased.
For both patient groups, the degree of satisfaction with the treatment and therapists was good. Ninety-six percent of patients receiving online therapy and 91 percent of the recipients of conventional treatment rated the contact with their therapist as “personal.”
In the case of online therapy, the patients tended to use the therapy contacts and subsequent homework very intensively to progress personally; for instance, re-reading correspondence with their therapist from time to time.
Investigators concluded that online psychotherapy is an effective, perhaps even enhanced method of care.
Source: University of Zurich