The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has approved online therapies in a progressive move.
What are the therapies being approved?
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has conditionally recommended the use of eight online therapies for treatment options. The treatments aim to help those with anxiety, depression, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and body dysmorphia. They are centered on using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – a talking therapy that can help patients by suggesting and altering their thought processes and behaviors. They are as follows:
- Depression: Three online CBT programs Beating the Blues, Deprexis, and Space from Depression (Silvercloud).
- Body dysmorphic disorder: an online CBT program called Perspectives supported and provided by a trained therapist.
- General anxiety symptoms or unspecified anxiety disorder: Beating the Blues and Space from Anxiety (SilverCloud) with support provided by a psychological wellbeing practitioner or therapist.
- PTSD: iCT Internet-based cognitive therapy program (iCT-PTSD) and Spring with support from a trained therapist in treating PTSD.
- Social anxiety disorder: iCT-SAD with support provided by a therapist who is trained in treating social anxiety disorder.
NICE says the therapies can potentially help more than 40,000 people in the UK.
The therapy sessions can only be prescribed following a formal assessment from an NHS therapist. According to NHS Digital, there is a six-week waiting list for patients who need mental health support in England.
NICE has conditionally recommended the therapies – meaning early assessments have taken place to identify promising medical technology, but more evidence needs to be gathered. The NHS has already trialed some online treatments for PTSD in Scotland and Wales.
Some hope introducing online digital therapies could ease pressure on the NHS.
One individual in Wales who was diagnosed with PTSD trialed online therapy as part of a Cardiff University study. Speaking to the BBC about her experience, the patient said
“I’ve been completely match-fit since I’ve done the program. It’s given me techniques that are so useful in everyday life. In work, if I’ve got an important meeting and I feel a bit anxious, it’s taught me techniques for breathing and mindfulness.”
How does it work?
Patients complete a series of modules within programs such as ‘Beating the Blues‘ and in ‘Deprexis‘ worksheets and exercises are undertaken to help people better understand their mental health problems alongside techniques for changing their behavior or thinking patterns.
Others, such as ‘Silver Cloud‘ provide mindfulness tools and resources which are designed to be completed by the patient but overseen by a mental health practitioner.
The program shows promise
Announcing the organization’s support for the increased use of CBT, NICE’s interim director of medical technology and digital evaluation, Mark Chapman, said,
“Our rapid assessment of these eight technologies has shown they have promise. Developed using tried-and-tested CBT methods, each one has demonstrated it has the potential to provide effective treatment to the many thousands of people who live with these conditions.
Using a series of trials, NICE intends to gather further information about how effective the programs are, as well as whether they “represent good value for the NHS,” Mr Chapman added.
However, Professor Dame Til Wykes of the School of Mental Health and Psychological Sciences at London’s King’s College cautioned that not enough is known about the effectiveness of online therapies and whether the therapies will offer sufficient support for mental health patients.
But she added that there is evidence that these digital therapies hold promise, and collectively. we now need to know how they work in routine practice so we can tailor them to get the most benefit.
Jessica D’Cruz, the content manager for mental health charity Mind, told the BBC,
“We’re always pleased to see innovation in mental health therapies that can help people have greater choice in how they are supported, and allow all of us to find a therapy that works for ourselves. But online support isn’t right or accessible for everyone, so it’s important that we all have a range of support offered to us.
It’s also important to remember that with the ongoing underfunding of NHS mental health services, and the issues many services are experiencing in the wake of pressures from the pandemic and cost of living crisis, the majority of people in need of mental health support will struggle to benefit from this. The UK government must urgently give mental health services the financial support they need to be able to expand the availability of new treatment options such as these.”
In a world where everything is going online, it is assuring to see that health bodies such as NICE are endorsing the move towards digital platforms providing support for those with mental health needs.
The more that availability can be increased for support and counseling services, the better the chance of those who need help the most receiving it.
What do you think about online mental health treatments? Have you used any such treatment programs? Tell us more in the comments.