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Open Access Commentary

The promise and pitfalls of the internet for cognitive behavioral therapy

Gerhard Andersson

Author Affiliations

Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Swedish Institute for Disability Research, Linköping, Sweden

Karolinska Institutet, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Center for Psychiatry Research, Stockholm, Sweden

BMC Medicine 2010, 8:82  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-82

Published: 7 December 2010

Abstract

Internet-administered cognitive behavior therapy is a promising new way to deliver psychological treatment. There are an increasing number of controlled trials in various fields such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders and health conditions such as headache and insomnia. Among the advantages for the field of cognitive behavior therapy is the dissemination of the treatment, being able to access treatment from a distance, and possibilities to tailor the interventions. To date, studies in which large effects have been obtained have included patient support from a clinician. Recent trials suggest that this support may come from non-clinicians and that therapist effects are minimal. Since studies also suggest that internet-delivered cognitive behavior therapy can be equally effective as face-to-face cognitive behavior therapy, this is a finding that may have implications for CBT practitioners. However, there are other aspects to consider for implementation, as while clinicians may hold positive attitudes towards internet-delivered CBT a recent study suggested that patients are more skeptical and may prefer face-to-face treatment. In the present work, I argue that internet-delivered CBT may help to increase adherence to treatment protocols, that training can be facilitated by means of internet support, and that research on internet interventions can lead to new insights regarding what happens in regular CBT. Moreover, I conclude that internet-delivered CBT works best when support is provided, leaving an important role for clinicians who can incorporate internet treatment in their services. However, I also warn against disseminating internet-delivered CBT to patients for whom it is not suitable, and that clinical skills may suffer if clinicians are trained and practice mainly using the internet.