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Study: Treating panic disorder works as well online

A researcher at the Center for Psychiatry Research concludes that cognitive behavior therapy can be just as effective in treating panic disorders and mild depression online as in traditional groups.

Jan Bergström Ulf Sirborn

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) appears to be just as effective in treating panic disorder and mild to moderate depression when it is done online as it is in a more traditional, group-based setting, according to a doctoral thesis to be presented next week at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

"Internet-based CBT is also more cost-effective than group therapy," says Jan Bergström, a clinical psychologist at the Anxiety Disorders Unit of the Psychiatry Northwest division of the Stockholm County Council. "The results therefore support the introduction of Internet treatment into regular psychiatry."

Bergström's conclusions, just published on the Institute's Web site, are in good company; Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare has already recommended using the Internet in its new guidelines for treating depression and anxiety.

Bergström conducted a randomized trial of 104 patients diagnosed with panic disorder. All patients underwent both Internet-based CBT and group CBT as part of their regular health care service. There was no significant difference between the two, he concludes, either immediately following treatment or six months later.

In fact, the most remarkable difference between online and group CBT is that online treatment of depression appears to be most effective in the immediate aftermath of a depressive episode, while group CBT worked better for patients with a higher severity of depression or more frequent depressive episodes.

"Thanks to our research, Internet treatment is now implemented within regular health care in Stockholm, which probably makes the Stockholm County Council the first in the world to offer such treatment in its regular psychiatric services," Bergström says.