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Integrating technology into cognitive behavior therapy for adolescent depression: a pilot study

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Rapid advances in information technology and telecommunications have resulted in a dramatic increase in the use of mobile devices and the internet to enhance and facilitate access to treatment. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is an empirically based treatment that is well suited for enhancement by new technologies, particularly with youth. To facilitate the dissemination of this evidence-based treatment, we developed a technology-enhanced CBT intervention for the treatment of adolescent depression consisting of (1) online therapist training (2) in-session use of tablets for teaching clients CBT concepts and skills, and (3) text messaging for between session homework reminders and self-monitoring.


Eighteen licensed clinicians (social workers n = 7, psychologists n = 9) were randomized to have their patients receive either the intervention (CBT) or treatment as usual (TAU). Each clinician treated four adolescents for 12 weeks. Clinicians in the CBT arm completed an online tutorial on CBT treatment of adolescent depression, then received an iPad with access to patient education materials for teaching CBT concepts to patients during sessions. Individualized text messages were integrated into treatment for homework reminders, support, and outcomes measurement. Outcome measures included a 49-item multiple choice test for tutorial effectiveness; the system usability scale (SUS) for user satisfaction; quick inventory of depressive symptomatology–adolescent version (QIDS-A-Pat); and clinician and patient ratings on the therapeutic alliance scale for adolescents (TASA).


A significant increase in knowledge of CBT concepts was found after completing the tutorial, t(8) = 7.02,p < 0.001. Clinician and patient ratings of user satisfaction were high for both the iPad teaching tools, and the text messaging. Ninety-five percent of teens said reviewing their text messages with their therapist was helpful, and all said they would use text messaging in treatment again. Ratings of the therapeutic alliance were higher in the CBT arm t(131) = 4.03, p = 0.001. A significant reduction in depression was found in both groups [t(34) = 8.453, p < 0.001 and t(29) = 6.67, p < 0.001 for CBT and TAU, respectively). Clinical ratings of improvement were greater on all outcome measures for the CBT arm; however, none reached statistical significance. Effect sizes (Cohen’s d) ranged from small (QIDS-A) to large (TASA).


Results support the feasibility of this technology-enhanced CBT intervention as a means of improving CBT treatment of adolescent depression and may help address the critical shortage of therapists trained on empirically based treatments.


Cognitive therapy Internet Training Depressive disorder Adolescent Dissemination Evidence based