Is Computer-Based Psychotherapy Effective?

man in front of computer Computerized technology is quite impressive and we’ve found ways for it to make our lives easier. From self-driving cars to virtual assistants, the amount of things that can come from computerized technology is astounding and it can be appliedĀ to just about everything. However, computer-based technology still has a long list of limitations, especially when it comes to mental health. Recently, computer-based cognitive behavioral therapy has undergone some research and it looks like it will not replace person-to-person psychotherapy any time soon.

Professionals in the field of psychology, like Stuart MacFarlane, a psychotherapist, agree that face-to-face interaction is one of the best methods for successfully treating someone with a psychological illness and computer-based treatment cannot offer the same success. In a British study, 700 patients with depression were randomly assigned one of three treatment methods: standard care from a doctor, a commercial computer-based therapy package and a free online computer-based therapy package.

The computer-based therapy programs offered the patients six-week or eight-week, one-hour treatment sessions, depending on which package they were assigned and both programs encouraged the patients to complete homework between sessions. Researchers found that the computer-based psychotherapy package provided little to no benefit over standard care with a doctor. The study noted that 50% of patients that used the commercial computer-based therapy were still depressed and 49% of patients that used the free computer-based therapy were also still depressed after four months. Whereas only 44% of patients that received standard care with a doctor were still depressed.

The low levels of success for the computer-assisted therapy was due to the fact that majority of the patients did not fully follow through with their sessions. Only 18% completed of those with the commercial product finished all eight sessions and only 16% completed all six sessions of the free online therapy and roughly a quarter of the participants dropped out of the study by four months. One of the major problems facing the computer-based therapy was that the patients were generally unwilling to engage with the computer programs and many wanted a higher level of clinical support.

Computer technology has its limitations and when it comes to mental health, it’s best to leave the treatment up to the professionals. Unexpected personal issues can come up during a treatment session and a computer may not have the means to help the patient.

With that said, Stuart MacFarlane has found that once a good relationship has formed between the therapist and the patient, sessions can be carried out using Skype or FaceTime. Patients report good results. This is particularly helpful during times of forced absence such as when patients might need to be in other countries for whatever reason.


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