Modern communication technologies offer many new opportunities for reaching out to people. Can it also help patients with mental disorders?

Maybe. A group of investigators of the University of Heidelberg has published a controlled study on a new method of group therapy treatment based on internet chat in the July issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Following traditional impatient treatment, this study investigated the effectiveness of group therapy delivered through internet chat.

The main goal of the program was to reduce the risk of losing the therapeutic benefits achieved during the preceding inpatient treatment. 114 patients participated in one of two parallel groups of 8-10 patients that met with a group therapist in an internet chat room.

The groups met weekly for 12-15 weeks for 90 min. Controls were 114 patients who did not participate in the chat groups and were matched by application of propensity score methods.

The main criterion was derived from comprehensive assessments of changes in health status comprising the psychological and physical condition of the patients.

Assessments were conducted at admission, discharge and 12 months after discharge. 12 months after discharge, chat participants showed a substantially lower risk (24.7%) for negative outcome than controls (38.5%). Furthermore, the low dropout rate and the high session attendance supported the expectation that this novel offer met patients' needs, and thus, opens a new avenue for the optimization of care for patients with mental disorders.

Is it effective? Time will tell but the assessments look positive. Chat therapy may be a comfortable, convenient way to produce better results than traditional methods or it may be a veneer some of the more disturbed use to hide issues a face-to-face therapist might catch.

Source: "The Exploration of the Effectiveness of Group Therapy through an Internet Chat as Aftercare: A Controlled Naturalistic Study", Valiollah Golkaramnay, Stephanie Bauer, Severin Haug, Markus Wolf, Hans Kordy. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 2007;76:219-225