Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

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

Mirai So1*, Sosei Yamaguchi2, Sora Hashimoto3, Mitsuhiro Sado4, Toshi A Furukawa5 and Paul McCrone6

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, UK, Weston Education Centre, Cutcombe Rd, London, SE5 9RJ, UK

2 Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, National Institute of Mental Health, National Centre of Neurology and Psychiatry, Japan, 4-1-1 Ogawa-Higashi, Kodaira, Tokyo, 187-8553, Japan

3 Department of Psychology and Humanities, College of Sociology, Edogawa University, 474 Komaki, Nagareyama, Chiba, 270-0198, Japan

4 Department of Neuropsychiatry, Keio University School of Medicine, 35 Shinanomachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-8582, Japan

5 Department of Health Promotion and Human Behavior/Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine/School of Public Health, Yoshida Konoe-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, 606-8501, Japan

6 Centre for the Economics of Mental and Physical Health (CEMPH) P024, Institute of Psychiatry King’s College London, De Crespigny Park, London, SE5 8AF, UK

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BMC Psychiatry 2013, 13:113  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-113

Published: 15 April 2013



Depression is a major cause of disability worldwide, and computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CCBT) is expected to be a more augmentative and efficient treatment. According to previous meta-analyses of CCBT, there is a need for a meta-analytic revaluation of the short-term effectiveness of this therapy and for an evaluation of its long-term effects, functional improvement and dropout.


Five databases were used (MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, CENTRAL and CiNii). We included all RCTs with proper concealment and blinding of outcome assessment for the clinical effectiveness of CCBT in adults (aged 18 and over) with depression. Using Cohen’s method, the standard mean difference (SMD) for the overall pooled effects across the included studies was estimated with a random effect model. The main outcome measure and the relative risk of dropout were included in the meta-analysis.


Fourteen trials met the inclusion criteria, and sixteen comparisons from these were used for the largest meta-analysis ever. All research used appropriate random sequence generation and Intention-to-Treat analyses (ITT), and employed self-reported measures as the primary outcome. For the sixteen comparisons (2807 participants) comparing CCBT and control conditions, the pooled SMD was −0.48 [95% IC −0.63 to −0.33], suggesting similar effect to the past reviews. Also, there was no significant clinical effect at long follow-up and no improvement of function found. Furthermore, a significantly higher drop-out rate was found for CCBT than for controls. When including studies without BDI as a rating scale and with only modern imputation as sensitivity analysis, the pooled SMD remained significant despite the reduction from a moderate to a small effect. Significant publication bias was found in a funnel plot and on two tests (Begg’s p = 0.09; Egger’s p = 0.01). Using a trim and fill analysis, the SMD was −0.32 [95% CI −0.49 to −0.16].


Despite a short-term reduction in depression at post-treatment, the effect at long follow-up and the function improvement were not significant, with significantly high drop-out. Considering the risk of bias, our meta-analysis implied that the clinical usefulness of current CCBT for adult depression may need to be re-considered downwards in terms of practical implementation and methodological validity.

CCBT; Web-based CBT; Cognitive-behavioural therapy; Depression; Systematic review; Meta-analysis