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UK Study Shows Online Therapy Works as Well As In-Person and Why That Matters

This information matters for the millions of people who cannot easily access therapy appointments in person.

Talking to your therapist over Zoom is as helpful for anxiety and depression as going to in-person therapy. The virtual session, moreover, can be delivered at any lower cost, according to a large new study conducted in the U.K.

There are two points I want to make about the article, aside from the fact that it is based on a survey from the U.K. and thus doesn’t necessarily mean it will hold outside of their country. Still, it does offer some hope for one of the largest issues facing the US and other countries. That issue is that millions of people live in rural areas, for example, that don’t have access to mental healthcare. There are only so many therapists to go around in large urban areas as well, and they generally end up being too expensive for much of the population in the area.

We can improve this situation by making online, inexpensive therapy available. But, it might mean making it easier for therapists to see patients across state lines without cumbersome licensing requirements for each state.

The other thing that seems to have had a major impact on how online talk therapy is working in the U.K. seems to be the assistance patients get:

The paper is likely to “make a big splash,” Barlow says, because the authors showed that the success of the NHS virtual CBT program was linked to the fact that it provided patients with a therapist’s guidance every step of the way. Some Internet-delivered CBT just gives patients modules to work through on their own, but the new study showed that having a therapist work with the patient online is more effective, he says. “That seems to be where we get the best results, and that’s so extraordinarily important, given the rapidity with which the behavioral-health-care-delivery system is converting to digital applications,” Barlow adds.

This is massive. How often have I written about the overwhelming complications involved in navigating the mental healthcare system and how near-impossible that would be for someone struggling with mental health issues to figure out? It’s an overwhelming challenge for anyone, let alone someone already feeling mentally overwhelmed. Online tools that present users with overwhelming options will not be nearly as effective as one with someone to walk you through it. In my opinion, many of our current offerings fail in this regard. They offer many tools, meditation apps, journal prompts, emotional check-ins, etc., but do they help someone struggling to get the help they need quickly? Not so much.

They need to be better about that if we are going to make any kind of dent in the mental healthcare accessibility problem. Online therapy can be a difference maker if it can help people quicker and cheaper and with the same effectiveness. Those are the keys right now to improving the care system for all of us.


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