Computer-Based Therapy Options Expanding
> 10/8/2007 11:12:41 AM

Anonymity and efficiency have driven thousands of Britons to their keyboards for electronic therapy to treat their potentially crippling phobias and other mental illnesses. As in the United States, British citizens have increasingly warmed to the idea of computer programs designed to assess symptomatic states of mind and determine the optimum course of treatment, be it medication, therapy or a series of related computer programs that teach patients to better control their anxieties and compensate for mild to moderate depression. Early reports are overwhelmingly positive, noting that many patients using the computer programs make just as much progress as those attending traditional therapy sessions.

Two examples of the programs in question resemble automated forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: FearFighter, designed to help those suffering from irrational phobias to conquer their conditions by presenting rhetorical scenarios, helping patients recognize the stimuli most likely to trigger episodes of anxiety and suggesting methodical approaches to overcome or accomodate their tendency toward panic; Beating the Blues, a series of hour-long question, answer and information sessions advising patients with less severe cases of depression to begin counteracting their conditions through behavioral modifications and more effective responses to stress. Patients hesitant to make even confidential revelations in a face-to-face setting appreciate the anonymity allowed by such programs.

The British government, noting the cost effectiveness and convenience of computer therapy programs, especially for those who cannot access or afford visits to traditional therapists, stated earlier this year that the programs should be available to every citizen. Some patients who need to see therapists and receive their care via the National Health Service may face waits of up to six months before their first appointments. Programs like Fearfighter can make for an effective alternative or, at the very least, provide some respite and expert advice during those seemingly interminable waiting periods.

These therapy programs cannot yet issue prescriptions, and they obviously can't serve as complete replacements for the many uniquely qualified individuals who dedicate their professional lives to helping patients move through the pains of depression, anxiety and assorted phobias. Many more severe conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and extreme depression with suicidal ideation simply prove too complex for treatment via screen and keyboard. But developments like these programs (and hold great potential to expand the scope of psychiatric treatment to include as many of the millions of citizens who need help as it possibly can. The fact remains that the majority of patients who suffer from depression and seek treatment receive medication and a very minimal amount of therapy despite the fact that repeated studies hint at the shortcomings of purely medicinal treatment plans.

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