Tailored vs. standardized internet-based cognitive behavior therapy for depression and comorbid symptoms: a randomized controlled trial

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36905. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036905. Epub 2012 May 15.


Background and aims: Major depression can be treated by means of cognitive behavior therapy, delivered via the Internet as guided self-help. Individually tailored guided self-help treatments have shown promising results in the treatment of anxiety disorders. This randomized controlled trial tested the efficacy of an Internet-based individually tailored guided self-help treatment which specifically targeted depression with comorbid symptoms. The treatment was compared both to standardized (non-tailored) Internet-based treatment and to an active control group in the form of a monitored online discussion group. Both guided self-help treatments were based on cognitive behavior therapy and lasted for 10 weeks. The discussion group consisted of weekly discussion themes related to depression and the treatment of depression.

Methods: A total of 121 participants with diagnosed major depressive disorder and with a range of comorbid symptoms were randomized to three groups. The tailored treatment consisted of a prescribed set of modules targeting depression as well as comorbid problems. The standardized treatment was a previously tested guided self-help program for depression.

Results: From pre-treatment to post-treatment, both treatment groups improved on measures of depression, anxiety and quality of life. The results were maintained at a 6-month follow-up. Subgroup analyses showed that the tailored treatment was more effective than the standardized treatment among participants with higher levels of depression at baseline and more comorbidity, both in terms of reduction of depressive symptoms and on recovery rates. In the subgroup with lower baseline scores of depression, few differences were seen between treatments and the discussion group.

Conclusions: This study shows that tailored Internet-based treatment for depression is effective and that addressing comorbidity by tailoring may be one way of making guided self-help treatments more effective than standardized approaches in the treatment of more severe depression.

Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT01181583.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Comorbidity
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Self Care / methods
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01181583