The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Study shows the limits of internet-based therapies

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 28 November 2023

Internet programs and smartphone apps cannot replace therapy with a specialist for mental health problems. This is the conclusion reached by researchers at the University of Zurich (UZH) in a recent study.

Study shows the limits of internet-based therapies
 (KEYSTONE/Christian Beutler)

More and more people in Switzerland are seeking help for depression and anxiety disorders in particular, UZH wrote in a press release on Tuesday. However, there are longer waiting times for those affected.

Against this backdrop, online therapies promise a cost-effective alternative, according to the university. Instead of going to a specialist, people can learn behavioral therapy measures from digital help and treat themselves.

However, researchers at the university’s Institute of Psychology believe that this low-threshold service is not without its problems. “We still know far too little about the effectiveness of internet-based therapies,” Birgit Watzke, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy Research at the University of Zurich, was quoted as saying in the press release.

Tricky self-diagnosis

Watzke is one of the authors of a study that recently appeared in the specialist journal “Jama Psychiatry” and highlights the problems of internet-based therapies.

The researchers compared 109 clinical studies with a total of over 18,000 participants, 57 of which involved traditional psychotherapies and 48 internet-based therapies.

First author Mariia Merzhvynska investigated the severity of depression in those affected. She found that, on average, patients are less severely affected by internet-based therapies. In this respect, a comparison is difficult.

According to the researchers, it is also problematic that the participants in many internet-based studies were able to self-select on the basis of a self-diagnosis. This opens the door to manipulation. In addition, depression can occur together with other problems such as personality disorders or psychotic disorders. An accurate diagnosis is important so that those affected are not prescribed ineffective therapies.

©Keystone/SDA

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