Objective: Technological advances have sparked the development of computer- and smartphone-based self-help programs for depressed people, but these programs' efficacy is uncertain. This randomized controlled trial evaluated an intervention called SuperBetter (SB), which is accessed via smartphone and/or the SB Web site.
Materials and methods: Online, we recruited 283 adult iPhone(®) (Apple, Cupertino, CA) users with significant depression symptoms according to the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression questionnaire (CES-D). They were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (a) a version of SB using cognitive-behavioral therapy and positive psychotherapy strategies to target depression (CBT-PPT SB); (b) a general SB version focused on self-esteem and acceptance (General SB); or (c) a waiting list control group (WL). The two SB groups were instructed to use SB for 10 minutes daily for 1 month. All participants completed psychological distress and well-being measures online every 2 weeks through follow-up. An intent-to-treat analysis was conducted using hierarchical linear modeling.
Results: As hypothesized, SB participants achieved greater reductions in CES-D scores than WL participants by posttest (Cohen's d=0.67) and by follow-up (d=1.05). Contrary to prediction, CBT-PPT SB did not perform better than General SB; both versions of SB were more effective than the WL control. Differences between SB versions favored General SB but were not statistically significant.
Conclusions: These large effect sizes should be interpreted cautiously in light of high attrition rates and the motivated, self-selected sample. Nonetheless, smartphone-based/Internet-based self-help may play an important role in treating depression.