Online Counseling Can Work as Well as In-Person Therapy

Internet-based counseling conducted in real time with text messaging and other modern communication tools can be just as effective as face-to-face meetings with a counselor, CNN reported Aug. 31.

Researchers recently reported that 38 percent of depressed patients who received online cognitive-behavioral therapy (sometimes in conjunction with antidepressant medication) recovered after four months, compared to 24 percent in a control group who received their usual care from a physician and were on a waiting list for counseling.

The authors of the study did not directly compare online and in-person counseling. However, the outcome for patients who received the 10, 55-minute online counseling sessions was similar to that expected from traditional, in-person psychotherapy, according to psychiatrist Gregory Simon of the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, Wash. “People may be more willing to talk about things that are embarrassing or stigmatizing if they’re not interacting face-to-face,” he said.

“We think that writing gives people time to pause and reflect, and that this may help the therapeutic process,” added study lead author David Kessler of the University of Bristol in the U.K. On the other hand, remote counseling can cause therapists to miss important visual cues, gestures and speech, experts said.

The research appears in the Aug. 22, 2009 edition of The Lancet.

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