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AUG 13, 2013

New research suggests the Internet may be good for more than just online shopping

The Internet lets you shop, work, and even scope out guys from the comfort of your couch—but can it actually save you the trouble of going to a psychologist’s office? Turns out, therapy that you receive online can be just as effective as the kind you get face-to-face, according to a new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

For the study, 62 patients suffering from depression were treated with either Internet-based therapy or in-office therapy for eight weeks. The group that underwent online therapy communicated with their doctors exclusively via email, completing two writing assignments a week (for example, one asked them to journal about their first experiences with depression, and another asked them to write an encouraging letter to an imaginary friend in the same situation as them). The patients had 45 minutes to finish each assignment, and their therapists sent them feedback within a day. The other group met with a psychologist in person for one hour a week and was given homework assignments (such as writing down negative thoughts) to complete between meetings.

Immediately following the two-month study, about half of the people in each group no longer showed signs of depression. Three months later, 57 percent of online-therapy patients appeared to have completely recovered—while only 42 percent of people from the face-to-face therapy group were still depression-free.

It’s unclear why online therapy may have been more effective, but researchers think it might be because receiving treatment via the Internet forces patients to take more responsibility for their therapy. When people have to practice treatment techniques on their own, they better learn how to use them without help from a therapist, says study author Birgit Wagner, Ph.D., a cognitive-behavioral therapist and a researcher at the University of Leipzig.

Receive therapy the good, old-fashioned way? Don’t cancel your next appointment just yet. More people in the face-to-face group stuck with their therapy in the months following the study. So if you think staying in therapy is important for you—and something you may have trouble with—in-person sessions might be a better choice for you.

Trying to find a new therapist? These tips should help, whether you prefer to see someone offline or remotely.

photo: Gunnar Pippel/Shutterstock

 

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