A new study has highlighted the scope of computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) tools available worldwide and outlined their impact on people with mental health needs.

The study from RAND Europe, commissioned by the education and social service company Ingeus, showed that computerised cognitive behavioural therapy tools, which are online platforms or mobile applications to help tackle common mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety or insomnia, have grown significantly in the past two years. These tools are available in a number of countries, including Australia, China, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, and the U.S.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.

Computerised cognitive behavioural therapy tools aim to address a variety of mental health conditions, with the study finding that these largely had a positive impact on users. It also found that condition-specific tools could reduce the symptoms of other conditions. For example, a tool to help those with insomnia could simultaneously reduce symptoms of depression.  

Despite the overall positive impact, the study revealed that some groups with mental health needs are less likely to participate in treatment (or trials) of computerised cognitive behavioural therapy tools than others. For example, the average user was a woman in her late 30s with a university degree and in full-time employment. However, computerised cognitive behavioural therapy tools specifically focused on people with depression had a more equal proportion of male and female participants, while those specifically for people with anxiety disorders had somewhat younger and less-well-educated participants.

A previous RAND Europe study in 2014 suggested that providing access to online mental health assessment and support, such as computerised cognitive behavioural therapy tools, could help to reach a large proportion of the UK population with mental health needs at a relatively low cost. Common mental health problems affect over a quarter of adults in England (26 per cent) and incur increasing costs to individuals, employers and governments. However, access to mental health services is limited.

Chris van Stolk, lead researcher and vice president at RAND Europe, says: “Computerised cognitive behavioural therapy offers a range of promising solutions to support those with mental health needs. These can help people less likely to talk with their GP or therapist. However, our study showed a risk that these solutions could be failing to reach certain groups, such as unemployed men.”

He continues: “There are a range of computerised cognitive behavioural therapy applications and other platforms available worldwide that meet a diverse range of mental health needs. These are not the ‘silver bullet’ to solving common mental health problems, but are largely effective at providing a sufficient level of support to those with mental health needs.”

Barry Fletcher, chief operations officer for Ingeus, says: “This informative and timely report provides a useful insight into the rapidly changing market for computerised cognitive behavioural therapy tools, as well as the ways in which they can be best utilised to support individuals with mental health needs”.

He continues: “One thing that we are learning both from this report and from our own experience of delivering services across a range of sectors, is that for individuals with complex needs, often the best solutions can be found in blended support, including greater use of technology. This report provides a useful evidence-based guide as to how services in the future might utilise these innovative new technologies that are now developing a strong evidence base.”

The report provides a systematic assessment of post-2013 literature on computerised cognitive behavioural therapy platforms. The aim was to have up-to-date evidence, particularly around the availability, use and effectiveness of computerised cognitive behavioural therapy platforms.

To view the report visit Randeurope:

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