Background: Anxiety conditions are debilitating and prevalent throughout the world. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an effective, acceptance-based behavioral therapy for anxiety. However, there are treatment barriers (eg, financial, geographical, and attitudinal), which prevent people from accessing it. To overcome these barriers, internet-delivered ACT (iACT) interventions have been developed in recent years. These interventions use websites to deliver ACT information and skill training exercises on the Web, either as pure self-help or with therapist guidance.
Objective: This systematic review aimed to examine the therapeutic impact of iACT on all anxiety conditions.
Methods: The EMBASE, MEDLINE, ProQuest Central, PsycINFO, Scopus, and Web of Science databases were searched up to September 2018. The titles and abstracts of remaining records after deduplication were screened by 2 authors with a total of 36 full-text articles being retained for closer inspection next to eligibility criteria. Empirical studies of all designs, population types, and comparator groups were included if they appraised the impact of iACT treatment on any standardized measure of anxiety. Included studies were appraised on methodological quality and had their data extracted into a standardized coding sheet. Findings were then tabulated, and a narrative synthesis was performed because of the heterogeneity found between studies.
Results: A total of 20 studies met inclusion criteria. There were 11 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and 9 uncontrolled pilot studies. Participants across all studies were adults. The anxiety conditions treated were as follows: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), illness anxiety disorder (IAD), and general anxiety symptoms, with or without comorbid physical and mental health problems. A total of 18 studies reported significant anxiety reduction after iACT treatment. This was observed in studies that delivered iACT with (n=13) or without (n=5) therapist guidance. The average attrition rate across all included studies during the active iACT treatment phase was 19.19%. In the 13 studies that assessed treatment satisfaction, participants on average rated their iACT experience with above average to high treatment satisfaction.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that iACT can be an efficacious and acceptable treatment for adults with GAD and general anxiety symptoms. More RCT studies are needed to corroborate these early iACT findings using empirical treatments in active control groups (eg, internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy). This would potentially validate the promising results found for SAD and IAD as well as address the full spectrum of anxiety disorders.
Keywords: acceptance and commitment therapy; anxiety; anxiety disorders; e-therapy; internet; mindfulness; telemedicine.
©Joshua Kelson, Audrey Rollin, Brad Ridout, Andrew Campbell. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 29.01.2019.