Background: We studied to what extent internet-based cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) programs for symptoms of depression and anxiety are effective.
Method: A meta-analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials.
Results: The effects of internet-based CBT were compared to control conditions in 13 contrast groups with a total number of 2334 participants. A meta-analysis on treatment contrasts resulted in a moderate to large mean effect size [fixed effects analysis (FEA) d=0.40, mixed effects analysis (MEA) d=0.60] and significant heterogeneity. Therefore, two sets of post hoc subgroup analyses were carried out. Analyses on the type of symptoms revealed that interventions for symptoms of depression had a small mean effect size (FEA d=0.27, MEA d=0.32) and significant heterogeneity. Further analyses showed that one study could be regarded as an outlier. Analyses without this study showed a small mean effect size and moderate, non-significant heterogeneity. Interventions for anxiety had a large mean effect size (FEA and MEA d=0.96) and very low heterogeneity. When examining the second set of subgroups, based on therapist assistance, no significant heterogeneity was found. Interventions with therapist support (n=5) had a large mean effect size, while interventions without therapist support (n=6) had a small mean effect size (FEA d=0.24, MEA d=0.26).
Conclusions: In general, effect sizes of internet-based interventions for symptoms of anxiety were larger than effect sizes for depressive symptoms; however, this might be explained by differences in the amount of therapist support.