Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Therapy Apps Just As Good As IRL Therapy, Science Says

Therapy Apps Just As Good As IRL Therapy, Science Says

The Debrief: Researchers have found that cheap, phone-based therapies are no worse than face-to-face help…

Though there’s been a huge drive from the government - and even royalty - to take mental health issues more seriously, and to talk about it, the truth is, the NHS just doesn’t have the capacity to treat mental health with the same sincerity it treats physical health issues.

Some find the solution is to make mental health a financial priority, and spend hundreds on getting their brain looked into by an expert. But so many more simply don’t have that as an option.

But some scientists have got the answer. Though therapy apps such as Headspace, and self-help books are not particularly new, researchers from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane have found that they can be just as - if not more - effective than actual face-to-fact therapies.

The researchers looked at 15 trials involving 910 patients where computer, or paper—administered therapy were compared to traditional methods and then wrote in the journal Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research: ‘We found no difference in treatment completion rate and broad equivalence of treatment outcomes for participants treated through self-help and participants treated through a therapist.’

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Robert King, who led the research, concluded 'The finding does not suggest that therapists play a major role in therapy outcome.’

The study also addressed the expectation that therapists are good at spotting when someone’s really truly bummed out - an app can’t tell you’re crying, let alone if you’re holding it all in - and can then tailor their services to that person. The scientists explained that even if therapists could intervene to reduce negative reactions, they don’t do so often enough to make a substantial improvement in the therapy administered.

Mental health charities aren’t so convinced by apps’ safety, though. Louise Rubin, head of policy at Mind, told The Times: ‘While online therapy can be beneficial, it’s important that it doesn’t become a substitute for face-to-face therapy delivered by a qualified practitioner and that it’s offered alongside a range of other treatment options.’

The current average waiting list for mental health issues on the NHS is such that 75% of those seeking help will be seen within six weeks, and that 95% of people seeking help will be seen within 18 weeks. There are 18,422 hospital beds available for mental health patients on the NHS. That is one for every 3,563 people.

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Tags: Health