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Study Sheds Light on the Impact of Internet-Delivered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy on Depression

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In a landmark study published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from the University of Exeter have uncovered new insights into the effectiveness of individual components within internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in treating depression.

The study involved a randomised optimisation trial with 767 adults suffering from depression. Participants were randomly assigned to seven experimental factors within the internet CBT platform, each reflecting a specific treatment component.

Overall, the researchers found that internet-delivered CBT reduced depression in participants. However, when the researchers examined the individual treatment components, only absorption training – a treatment aspect focused on enhancing direct contact with positive reinforcers – demonstrated a significant main effect on reducing depression symptoms at a six-month follow-up.

The other treatment components, which included activity scheduling, functional analysis, thought challenging, relaxation, concreteness training, and self-compassion training, did not show a significant main effect on depression symptoms, neither post-treatment nor at the six-month follow-up.

Lead researcher Edward Watkins, PhD, and his team wrote, “We cautiously suggest that internet-delivered CBT may reduce depression through an as-yet-undetermined combination of spontaneous remission, pan-therapy common factors, and factors common to all CBT components, although further replication is needed.”

This groundbreaking study has substantial implications for the development of more effective and streamlined CBT-based treatments for depression, especially in the context of an increasingly digital and remote therapeutic environment. These findings, if substantiated by further research, could potentially influence future iterations of internet-delivered CBT, focusing more on common factors and potentially reducing the complexity of the therapy for improved scalability and accessibility.

One of the authors disclosed affiliations with the publishing industry. The research team recommends further studies to validate these results and continue the quest to unravel the complexities of internet-delivered CBT for treating depression.

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