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Computer simulations offer no additional benefit over traditional therapy, study finds

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Mental Health Professionals concerned that automated self-help programs will put them out of business can take some comfort in a new study — it found that when it comes to mental health care for depression, computerized self-help simulators offered no additional benefits over traditional therapies one might receive from their primary care physician. In fact, the study found that nearly 25% of participants dropped out within four months and failed to engage with the self-help program.

Dr. Christopher Dowrick of the University of Liverpool wrote an accompanying editorial in which he commented, “It’s an important, cautionary note that we shouldn’t get too carried away with the idea that a computer system can replace doctors and therapists . . . We do still need the human touch or the human interaction, particularly when people are depressed.”

Such simulators have been around for awhile and have increased in popularity as access to technology increases and the stigma surrounding mental health treatment continues. These programs are run purely on artificial intelligence, that is to say there is no human being at the other end giving their feedback or any empathetic response.

So, while it seems looking online for help is a growing trend, taking the human element out of that interaction may not be the best way to go. This is good news, however, for helplines, counselors, and others looking to offer live chat capabilities to their service. Clearly people want to take advantage of the anonymity, and desire a less-threatening way of asking for help, but connecting with a human being on the other end of the online conversation is an all-important element of that process.

NPR published an article about this study which you can read here, or read the study itself here.

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Dana

Dana joined the iCarol team in 2013 after 12 years of direct service and administrative duties at a suicide prevention, crisis intervention, and empathetic listening helpline that also served as a 2-1-1 information and referral service. You'll find her presenting Webinars, Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking, and producing other materials that aid helplines in their work and learn more about iCarol.

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