Computerised Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Our rating
Adults 2 smilies: This treatment is useful. It is supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
Children/adolescents 1 smilie: This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.

What does this rating mean?

The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • These treatments are not recommended and could be dangerousSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (cCBT) is a type of self-help therapy delivered via the internet. There are many cCBT programs such as Beating the Blues and moodgym. cCBT uses the same techniques a therapist would in face-to-face cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).

How does it work?

People who are depressed often have distorted thinking patterns. They may see themselves and their situation more negatively than others see it. These thinking patterns can make their depressed mood worse. In cognitive behaviour therapy, people are taught how to challenge their distorted thinking patterns and taught how thoughts, feelings and behaviours are associated with depression.

cCBT teaches the principles of cognitive behaviour therapy via interactive lessons over the internet. Lessons can be completed over several weeks, and usually one or two lessons are assigned for each week. Clinician assisted cCBT is also available in which the patient can get support from a trained professional, either online, over the phone or in person.

Is it effective?

There is some scientific evidence on cCBT for the treatment of adult depression. A review of 20 randomised control trials showed that cCBT was effective at reducing symptoms of depression. cCBT may be best as a short-term treatment. A systematic review assessing cCBT for adult depression suggested it may not be effective in treating depression long term.

There is less scientific evidence on cCBT for the treatment of depression in childhood and adolescence. More studies are needed to ensure cCBT works for this age group.

Are there any disadvantages?

Privacy may be an issue as cCBT is delivered over the internet. Users of cCBT programs should ensure they access legitimate websites and understand how their information will be kept private. cCBT also requires access to computers and for users to be computer literate.

Where do you get it?

cCBT is delivered over the internet. There are a range of cCBT programs people can try including Beating the Blues and moodgym.

Recommendation

cCBT appears to be an effective treatment for depression in adults in the short term. cCBT seems to be a promising treatment for depression in children and adolescents, however more research is needed to be sure it is effective for this age group.

Key references

  • Andersson G, Topooco N, Havik O, Nordgreen T. Internet-supported versus face-to-face cognitive behavior therapy for depression. Expert review of neurotherapeutics. 2016; 16(1): 55-60.
  • Hedman E, Ljotsson B, Lindefors N. Cognitive behavior therapy via the Internet: a systematic review of applications, clinical efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Expert review of pharmacoeconomics & outcomes research. 2012; 12(6): 745-64.
  • Pennant ME, Loucas CE, Whittington C, Creswell C, Fonagy P, Fuggle P, et al. Computerised therapies for anxiety and depression in children and young people: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Behaviour research and therapy. 2015; 67: 1-18.
  • Richardson T, Stallard P, Velleman S. Computerised cognitive behavioural therapy for the prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents: a systematic review. Clinical child and family psychology review. 2010; 13(3): 275-90.
  • So M, Yamaguchi S, Hashimoto S, Sado M, Furukawa TA, McCrone P. 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. 2013; 13(1): 113.
  • Zhou T, Li X, Pei Y, Gao J, Kong J. Internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy for subthreshold depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 2016;16(1):356.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019