SAN FRANCISCO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Nearly 6% of patients deteriorated during Internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (iCBT) in an individual patient data meta-analysis totaling 2,866 participants in 29 published clinical trials, Alexander Rozental, PhD, reported at the annual conference of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

On the other hand, the meta-analysis also highlighted the hazards of doing nothing for patients experiencing mental distress: 17.4% of patients deteriorated while in wait-list control groups in the 29 trials, a rate of harm triple the 5.8% deterioration rate in patients during iCBT, added Dr. Rozental , a clinical psychologist at Stockholm University.

This meta-analysis is one of the very few studies to look at the negative effects of a psychologic treatment. Psychotherapy research has focused almost entirely on the positive effects. That’s at odds with the way pharmacologic research is conducted, in which reporting of adverse events is mandatory, he noted.

Of patients in the meta-analysis, 61% sought treatment for anxiety disorders, 20% for depression, and the rest for erectile dysfunction, pathological gambling, or relationship problems.

iCBT is particularly popular in Sweden, where it was developed two decades ago as a means of disseminating evidence-based, manualized therapy to a broad population in a highly cost-effective manner. This form of psychotherapy typically entails 8 to 12 weekly treatment modules, with weekly assignments, predetermined deadlines, texts and exercises, and regular, albeit relatively brief, contact with a therapist via secure email.

Dr. Rozental and his coinvestigators reviewed individual patient data in search of predictors of treatment success or deterioration. A profile emerged of the patients least likely to deteriorate while on iCBT: older age, university-educated, in a stable relationship, and with a higher level of symptoms pretreatment.

“You might interpret the findings as an indicator for matching the right type of treatment to the right patient. Perhaps those [who] are younger, have less than a university degree, and are not in a relationship might be better off in a face to face treatment, at least in terms of preventing deterioration,” he observed in an interview. “This makes sense if you think about the amount of work you have to do on your own in Internet-based psychological treatments, which include limited access to a therapist and require reading a lot of text material.”

Patients participating in iCBT who fit that profile might need extra support from a therapist in order to improve, Dr. Rozental added.

He reported having no financial conflicts regarding his study, which was funded by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life, and Welfare.


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