Q: How well does web-based psychotherapy work?
A: Therapy you can access through your laptop or phone has its advantages — and disadvantages.
On the upside, it can be more convenient than going to a therapist's office and can be done at your own pace.
It can also boost access to help for those feeling inhibited about seeking in-person therapy, or for those who face such barriers to care as cost.
Among the cons is not everyone is going to feel comfortable with web-based therapy. And it's definitely not intended for serious mental-health conditions, such as uncontrolled bipolar disorder, or for anyone in crisis.
One option to investigate is SilverCloud, which OSF HealthCare is offering free to adults 18 and older who live in the service areas of its hospitals.
SilverCloud is described as secure, online-supported cognitive-behavioral-therapy programs that are customized to individual needs. Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to challenge and modify negative thoughts and perceptions that affect behavior.
Here's how SilverCloud works: Patients initially fill out clinical questionnaires for depression and anxiety screening, according to LUKE RAYMOND, OSF HealthCare's manager of behavioral health.
Users who sign up have access for a year, but generally complete modules over about eight to 10 weeks and answer questions after each one.
OSF has a network of behavioral-health supporters spread out geographically who help users navigate the system and respond to content (such as activities and goals for the week) that users share.
Research done by the University of Zurich looked at the effectiveness of online cognitive behavioral therapy as opposed to in-person therapy in 62 patients with moderate depression.
The researchers found the rate of depression fell about the same in both the online and in-person groups, and the rate of satisfaction with the treatment and therapists was equally high.
OSF began offering SilverCloud in 2017, and last year began making it available on an open enrollment basis — meaning access isn't controlled by the patient's physician or therapist, Raymond said.
"Our clinical outcomes have been fairly comparable to what someone would experience with face-to-face therapy," he said.
Ideal candidates for such programs as SilverCloud aren't in acute distress or suffering from a major mental illness, have a certain comfort level working with an online support tool and have at least a sixth-grade reading-comprehension level, Raymond said.
Two more things to know about SilverCloud: It's anonymous to all but your OSF behavioral-health supporter, who will know your identity. And, depending on your individual need, you may still require the help of an in-person clinician.