Benefits of Individualized Feedback in Internet-Based Interventions for Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial

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Abstract

Background: Even though there is an increasing number of studies on the efficacy of Internet-based interventions (IBI) for depression, experimental trials on the benefits of added guidance by clinicians are scarce and inconsistent. This study compared the efficacy of semistandardized feedback provided by psychologists with fully standardized feedback in IBI. Methods: Participants with mild-to-moderate depression (n = 1,089, 66% female) from the client pool of a health insurance company participated in a cognitive-behavioral IBI targeting depression over 6 weeks. Individuals were randomized to weekly semistandardized e-mail feedback from psychologists (individual counseling; IC) or to automated, standardized feedback where a psychologist could be contacted on demand (CoD). The contents and tasks were identical across conditions. The primary outcome was depression; secondary outcomes included anxiety, rumination, and well-being. Outcomes were assessed before and after the intervention and 3, 6, and 12 months later. Changes in outcomes were evaluated using latent change score modeling. Results: Both interventions yielded large pre-post effects on depression (Beck Depression Inventory-II: dIC = 1.53, dCoD = 1.37; Patient Health Questionnaire-9: dIC = 1.20, dCoD = 1.04), as well as significant improvements of all other outcome measures. The effects remained significant after 3, 6, and 12 months. The groups differed with regard to attrition (IC: 17.3%, CoD: 25.8%, p = 0.001). Between-group effects were statistically nonsignificant across outcomes and measurement occasions. Conclusion: Adding semistandardized guidance in IBI for depression did not prove to be more effective than fully standardized feedback on primary and secondary outcomes, but it had positive effects on attrition.

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