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Internet therapy not effective for depression in the long term

12 January 2018

Researchers from the University of Groningen (UG) and the Amsterdam Academic Medical Center (AMC) have found internet therapy to be effective in the short term for depression but not in the long term. On the other hand, the therapy does work if it is given by psychologists. The researchers present the effects in an article appearing this week in a leading international journal on psychology.

In recent years, more and more attention is being paid to internet-based psychological therapies. At the same time, the number of Dutch people with depression is not declining. In addition, people who have suffered a depression often suffer a relapse. Researchers in Groningen (UG) and Amsterdam (AMC) thus investigated whether an online therapy is effective in preventing new depressions in people who had recovered from a previous depression.

Preventing relapse
Many people who have had a depression suffer relapses. The principal researcher, Professor Claudi Bockting of the UG, explains: ‘It is very important to prevent new depressions. We know from previous research that our relapse prevention programme works when given by psychologists. We therefore investigated whether this therapy would also work with a lower threshold, in other words online and with minimal telephone contact with a psychologist.’

Medication or a psychologist
The researchers examined how good this internet therapy was at preventing new depressions at 3 months and 2 years after completing the therapy. They compared the results to the standard care offered, such as continuing medication. After 3 months the programme provided more protection against depression compared with standard care, but this was not so after 2 years. This is striking because internet therapies without visits to a psychologist are being offered more frequently. What is also known is that therapy via a psychologist works. The researchers are going to continue studying the relapse prevention programme, but now with more contact with a psychologist.

Professor Bockting is currently investigating whether therapy via videocalls with psychologists works in preventing new depressions in pregnant women who are cutting down on their antidepressants. This study will investigate which is better: cutting down the medication and following a relapse prevention programme, or continuing with the medication. See for more information.

Note for the press:

The article ‘No sustainable effects of an internet-based relapse prevention program over 24 months in recurrent depression: primary outcomes of a randomized controlled trial’ appeared this week in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics: Klein, N. S., Kok, G. D., Burger, H., Van Valen, E., Riper, H., Cuijpers, P., Dekker, J., Smit, F., Van der Heiden, C, & Bockting, C. L. H. (2018). No sustainable effects of an internet-based relapse prevention program over 24 months in recurrent depression: primary outcomes of a randomized controlled trial. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 87, 55–57.

Last modified:26 October 2021 1.23 p.m.
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