So, M., Yamaguchi, S., Hashimoto, S., Sado, M., Furukawa, T.A., & McCrone, P. (2013). Is computerised CBT really helpful for adult depression?-A meta-analytic re-evaluation of CCBT for adult depression in terms of clinical implementation and methodological validity. BMC Psychiatry, 13, 113.
Depression is a major cause of disability in the world, and so efforts to improve access to its treatment have been ongoing for several decades. In particular, many researchers and clinicians propose cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as an effective treatment with a good evidence-base. There have been many clinical trials showing the efficacy of CBT. In recent years, there have also been attempts to computerize CBT (CCBT) as a self help intervention in order to increase its accessibility for those with depression, and perhaps also to improve its cost effectiveness. In fact, the Increasing Accessibility to Psychotherapy (IAPT) program in the UK provides CCBT as the most common first treatment for depression. However there remain questions about the longer term effectiveness of CCBT to reduce symptoms of depression, its potentially high patient dropout rate (a negative outcome), and its effects on quality of life of those burdened by depression. In this meta analysis, the largest of its kind, So and colleagues assess these issues with regard to CCBT. They reviewed 14 direct comparison randomized controlled trials that provided 16 comparisons of CCBT versus a control condition (wait list or treatment as usual) for adults with depression. At post-treatment, CCBT was more effective than controls in reducing depression −0.48 [95% CI −0.63 to −0.33]. However, at follow up (up to 6 months), the effects of CCBT disappeared −0.05 [95% CI −0.19 to 0.09]. Also improvement in functioning and quality of life were not significantly different between CCBT and control conditions, −0.05 [95% CI −0.31 to 0.22]. The rate of drop out from CCBT (32%) was almost double that of control conditions (17%), RR = 1.68 [95% CI 1.31 to 2.16]. There was also evidence of publication bias (i.e., a tendency for some researchers not to publish non-significant findings), so that the positive post-treatment results in favour of CCBT might be inflated.
Although CCBT may be touted as a way to increase access to treatment for depression, this meta analysis indicates some concerns about the widespread implementation of CCBT. The effects of CCBT appear to be limited to a short-term reduction of depressive symptoms that may not be sustained in the longer run. There was no appreciable impact of CCBT on quality of life relative to controls, and so CCBT may have a limited impact on the burden of depression. Most troubling was a high drop out rate of 32%. Drop out from CCBT in the IAPT program in the UK is about 50%, and this may be indicative of the actual drop out rate in real world practice.