Study Finds Less Follow-Through with Computerized Therapy

Men with hands in front of his face with computerComputer-assisted therapy may be less effective than the standard in-person model, according to a study published in BMJ. Researchers determined the problem is not with computerized therapy itself, but with the ability of participants to follow through on the treatment. Earlier this month, results from two studies supported the effectiveness of online therapy. If the results of the latest study hold true, future research might need to address how to convince people to stick with treatment.

How Follow-Through Issues Undermine Computerized Psychotherapy

Researchers recruited nearly 700 British adults with depression to participate in either standard care from a doctor or one of two computerized models. The “standard” care was a range of care tailored to each participant and often included medication and psychotherapy.

The first computerized model was a commercial program called Beating the Blues. The second was a free program. The results were not blind, which means researchers, treatment providers, and participants knew which type of treatment was administered. Double-blind research is typically more reliable because it reduces bias, thereby reducing the likelihood that researchers or participants will unconsciously alter study results.

Both computerized programs used cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a research-supported treatment for depression. The two programs encouraged participants to complete homework outside of sessions, as is common with in-person CBT. Each program offered hour-long weekly sessions.

Researchers found no benefits to the computer programs over standard depression treatment. Forty-four percent of those in the standard care group were depressed after four months, compared to 50% of those who underwent commercial computerized therapy and 49% who participated in the free program. Additionally, participants in these computerized programs were significantly less likely to stick with treatment. Only 18% of those in the commercial product group and 16% of those in the free program completed all sessions. A quarter of participants dropped out of the study.

The authors of the study suggest repeatedly logging into a computer when experiencing depression can feel daunting. Additionally, people with depression may want in-person support, rather than impersonal instructions from a computer.


  1. Computer-based psychotherapy not as effective as standard care. (2015, November 12). Retrieved from
  2. Gilbody, S., Littlewood, E., Hewitt, C., Brierley, G., Tharmanathan, P., Araya, R., . . . White, D. (2015). Computerised cognitive behaviour therapy (cCBT) as treatment for depression in primary care (REEACT trial): Large scale pragmatic randomised controlled trial. Bmj, 351. doi:10.1136/bmj.h5627

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  • Cat


    November 19th, 2015 at 2:19 PM

    There is nothing about computerized models that will hold you accountable the way you would with therapy face to face.

  • Carina


    November 20th, 2015 at 9:37 AM

    My thoughts on this extend a little further and think that if people are not getting any true sort of reward for going through this process then quite obviously there is not going to be as much desire to continue with the process. They must feel that they are getting something in return for what they are actually putting into it.

  • Kayden


    November 20th, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    Maybe this is not the answer to everything that is wrong with therapy but it should by no means imply that this has to end. For many people I am sure that this is the only access to therapy that they have the opportunity to pursue so while it may not be a magical fix, that doesn’t mean that the idea should be scrapped. Maybe it just needs to be modified a bit.

  • Mac


    November 21st, 2015 at 8:01 AM

    I honestly would think that this would have a great deal of appeal for someone who is depressed.
    You wouldn’t even have to leave your house but you could make some significant strides forward with your recovery working through this computer based model.
    I for one think that it could be a great choice for many people.

  • aqua


    November 23rd, 2015 at 10:48 AM

    Not only could this sort of be overwhelming, for many it still is not an option if they cannot afford internet service or may not even have access to a computer in the home.
    I know that for most of us that is not even something that seems like an option but for thousands of people this could make the difference between having food or not.
    I think that I know which I would choose.

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