Can Internet-Based Therapy Effectively Treat Depression?

By Beth Leipholtz 12/18/18

Scientists investigated whether internet-based platforms that offer treatment for depression were actually effective. 

woman on the internet receiving treatment for depression

Technology may soon have a larger role in treating severe depression, as new research has determined that cognitive behavioral therapy sessions via an app can be effective.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, according to Medical News Today, is a type of therapy that works to change people’s thought patterns over time. When delivered via an app, it is referred to as internet-based CBT or iCBT. 

In the past, it has been deemed effective for depression, anxiety and panic disorder, bipolar, substance use disorders and various other mental health disorders. 

However, until recently, it was unknown whether iCBT was effective for severe depression or for those struggling with both depression and anxiety/alcohol use disorder. 

According to Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces, a clinical professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington and lead study author, iCBT is effective in such cases. 

Lorenzo-Luaces says the criteria for major depressive disorder is met by about one in four people.

"If you include people with minor depression or who have been depressed for a week or a month with a few symptoms, the number grows, exceeding the number of psychologists who can serve them,” he told Medical News Today.

In the study, Lorenzo-Luaces and his team analyzed 21 existing studies and determined that iCBT apps were, in fact, effective for treating mild, moderate and severe levels of depression.

Many of the existing studies compared iCBT apps to “sham apps,” or apps that are meant to make weaker recommendations to their users. In these cases, the iCBT apps were far more effective for users. 

"Before this study, I thought past studies were probably focused on people with very mild depression, those who did not have other mental health problems and were at low risk for suicide," Lorenzo-Luaces said.

"To my surprise, that was not the case," he added. "The science suggests that these apps and platforms can help a large number of people."

Even so, Lorenzo-Luaces says it’s important that people don’t interpret this evidence as a reason to stop taking a medication and rely solely on iCBT.

In conclusion, Lorenzo-Luaces and his team note that iCBT is on par with other treatment methods for severe depression.

"A conservative interpretation of our findings is that the patient population sampled in the literature on self-guided iCBT is relatively comparable with that of studies of antidepressants or face-to-face psychotherapy."

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.