Background: Despite strong evidence for its effectiveness, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) remains difficult to access. Computerised programs have been developed to improve accessibility, but whether these interventions are responsive to individual needs is unknown. We investigated the effectiveness of CBT delivered online in real time by a therapist for patients with depression in primary care.
Methods: In this multicentre, randomised controlled trial, 297 individuals with a score of 14 or more on the Beck depression inventory (BDI) and a confirmed diagnosis of depression were recruited from 55 general practices in Bristol, London, and Warwickshire, UK. Participants were randomly assigned, by a computer-generated code, to online CBT in addition to usual care (intervention; n=149) or to usual care from their general practitioner while on an 8-month waiting list for online CBT (control; n=148). Participants, researchers involved in recruitment, and therapists were masked in advance to allocation. The primary outcome was recovery from depression (BDI score <10) at 4 months. Analysis was by intention to treat. This trial is registered, number ISRCTN 45444578.
Findings: 113 participants in the intervention group and 97 in the control group completed 4-month follow-up. 43 (38%) patients recovered from depression (BDI score <10) in the intervention group versus 23 (24%) in the control group at 4 months (odds ratio 2.39, 95% CI 1.23-4.67; p=0.011), and 46 (42%) versus 26 (26%) at 8 months (2.07, 1.11-3.87; p=0.023).
Interpretation: CBT seems to be effective when delivered online in real time by a therapist, with benefits maintained over 8 months. This method of delivery could broaden access to CBT.
Funding: BUPA Foundation.