You could go online. In the past 10 years, dozens of Internet-delivered CBT programs have cropped up, many of them free of charge. In countries such as Australia and Britain, computerized CBT is being touted as a cost-effective way to treat greater numbers of patients suffering from the most common mental illnesses – mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
But is online CBT as effective as face-to-face sessions with a compassionate therapist? Advocates note that some patients prefer the anonymity of Internet-delivered CBT, even as they acknowledge that the treatment model still needs tweaking. Critics insist that mentally ill patients need the human touch. Both agree that more research is needed, but as things stand, here are the promises and pitfalls of psychotherapy at your fingertips.
How does it work?
Using a computer, tablet or smartphone, patients log on to an online program such as Beating the Blues or MoodGYM (which has at least 600,000 registered users worldwide). At their own pace, patients complete interactive modules on how to identify symptoms, set goals and find new ways of thinking about everyday events. For example, a module might teach the “three Cs”: Catch the unhelpful thought (“I am an idiot for forgetting my friend’s birthday”). Check it to identify the distorted thinking pattern (over-generalizing, focusing on the negative). Change it to a more accurate or helpful thought (“Everyone makes mistakes,” and “I am a good friend most of the time”). Online CBT programs may include quizzes, homework exercises and self-assessments to monitor progress.
Does it help people recover from mental illness?