Clinical researchers at the University of Zurich are touting the benefits of online psychotherapy after their study found it equally — if not somewhat more — effective than conventional, in-person consultations.
Six therapists treated 62 patients, most of whom were suffering from depression, over a span of eight sessions. The patients were equally divided into two groups and randomly assigned to either online psychotherapy or in-person therapy sessions.
The techniques used in the sessions stemmed from cognitive behavior therapy and could be carried out both orally and in writing. The patients treated online were known to the therapists by name and had to complete one written task per therapy session that involved such exercises as questioning their own negative self-image.
After completing treatment, 53% of the patients treated via Internet no longer met the criteria for depression, compared to 50% of the patients treated conventionally. Three months later, the results looked even brighter for the online group: Depression could no longer be detected in 57% of the patients treated online, compared with 42% of the conventional group.
“In the medium term, online psychotherapy even yields better results. Our study is evidence that psychotherapeutic services on the Internet are an effective supplement to therapeutic care,” said professor Andreas Maercker.
Interestingly, the fact that the online group's sessions weren't in-person didn't seem to make the patients feel any less connected to the therapist. Among the patients treated via Internet, 96% rated contact with the therapist as "personal," compared with 91% of the conventionally treated patients. One of the benefits of the online interaction was that patients could — and did — go back and re-read their conversations with the therapists.