Internet Therapy Helps Treat Mental Health Disorders
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

By: Swinburne University of Technology

Online psychological treatment (etherapy) can be as effective as face-to-face therapy for treating mental health disorders, according to a new study by Swinburne researchers.

Published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the study found that therapist assisted etherapy is highly effective for the treatment of panic and panic-related symptoms.

It revealed that when online treatment programs are supported by health professionals they can achieve patient outcomes comparable to best-practice face-to-face therapy.

“Mental illness is a growing problem worldwide,” said lead author and psychologist Kerrie Shandley. “In Australia, it accounts for 13 per cent of health problems and one in 10 adults report that they suffer from a long-term mental or behavioural problem.”

“The management of anxiety and depression generally falls to family doctors who may lack the time and resources to deliver appropriate psychological treatment to their patients, so other methods for delivering effective therapy need to be developed.”

The study found that when panic disorder sufferers used the etherapy program ’Panic Online’ in conjunction with support from a general practitioner, their panic disorder and panic-related symptoms were reduced with around 30 per cent losing their symptoms altogether.

The study followed 96 people with a primary diagnosis of panic disorder who completed the Panic Online program over 12 weeks. Fifty-three of the participants had face-to-face assistance from their GP, who had received specialist training in cognitive behavioural therapy, and 43 had assistance from a clinical psychologist via email.

The participants completed a telephone interview conducted by a psychologist and a series of online questionnaires to assess panic-related symptoms over the course of the treatment and at a six-month follow-up.

“Both groups were shown to significantly improve over time”, Shandley said. “There were no noticeable differences between the participants who had assistance from their GP and those who had assistance from a clinical psychologist.”