The vast majority of people who receive psychotherapy through the Internet benefit from the treatment, though a small number do experience some kind of side effect.
Alexander Rozental, PhD, a psychologist, decided to explore the side effects of online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Online CBT is similar to the CBT one would get from seeing a mental health professional directly or reading a self-help book, but support is given through email with a psychiatrist. The dissertation is thought to be the first examination of the side effects of Internet-based therapy.
Rozental’s research found that only 6% of 3,000 patients receiving Internet-based therapy got worse during treatment.
When he examined patients who received psychotherapy in an outpatient setting that were asked if they had negative effects of the treatment, one-third said they had a difficult memory resurface, had more anxiety or felt stressed. In addition, some said they had a poor relationship with their therapist or the treatment was subpar.
Rozental explained that what is needed in further research is a better understanding of therapy side effects, both to identify patients who become worse early in treatment and to shield patients from bad therapists.
“’I hope that psychologists and psychotherapists become more aware that there can actually be side effects and that they need to ask patients whether they are experiencing any,” he said.