Background: Synchronous written conversations (or "chats") are becoming increasingly popular as Web-based mental health interventions. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to evaluate and summarize the quality of these interventions.
Objective: The aim of this study was to review the current evidence for the feasibility and effectiveness of online one-on-one mental health interventions that use text-based synchronous chat.
Methods: A systematic search was conducted of the databases relevant to this area of research (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online [MEDLINE], PsycINFO, Central, Scopus, EMBASE, Web of Science, IEEE, and ACM). There were no specific selection criteria relating to the participant group. Studies were included if they reported interventions with individual text-based synchronous conversations (ie, chat or text messaging) and a psychological outcome measure.
Results: A total of 24 articles were included in this review. Interventions included a wide range of mental health targets (eg, anxiety, distress, depression, eating disorders, and addiction) and intervention design. Overall, compared with the waitlist (WL) condition, studies showed significant and sustained improvements in mental health outcomes following synchronous text-based intervention, and post treatment improvement equivalent but not superior to treatment as usual (TAU) (eg, face-to-face and telephone counseling).
Conclusions: Feasibility studies indicate substantial innovation in this area of mental health intervention with studies utilizing trained volunteers and chatbot technologies to deliver interventions. While studies of efficacy show positive post-intervention gains, further research is needed to determine whether time requirements for this mode of intervention are feasible in clinical practice.
Keywords: chat; dialog system; remote psychotherapy.
©Simon Hoermann, Kathryn L McCabe, David N Milne, Rafael A Calvo. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 21.07.2017.