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Effectiveness of a Multimodal Digital Psychotherapy Platform for Adult Depression: A Naturalistic Feasibility Study

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Background: Although psychotherapy is one of the most efficacious and effective treatments for depression, limited accessibility to trained providers markedly limits access to care. In an attempt to overcome this obstacle, several platforms seeking to provide these services using digital modalities (eg, video, text, and chat) have been developed. However, the use of these modalities individually poses barriers to intervention access and acceptability. Multimodal platforms, comprising those that allow users to select from a number of available modalities, may be able to provide a solution to these concerns.

Objective: We aimed to investigate the preliminary effectiveness of providing psychotherapy through a multimodal digital psychotherapy platform. In addition, we aimed to examine differential responses to intervention by gender, self-reported physical health status, and self-reported financial status, as well as how prior exposure to traditional face-to-face psychotherapy affected the effectiveness of a multimodal digital psychotherapy intervention. Finally, we aimed to examine the dose-response effect.

Methods: Data were collected from a total of 318 active users of BetterHelp, a multimodal digital psychotherapy platform. Data on physical health status, financial status, and prior exposure to psychotherapy were obtained using self-report measures. Effectiveness was determined by the extent of symptom severity change, which was measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire at Time 1 (time of enrollment) and Time 2 (3 months after enrollment). Intervention dosage was measured as the sum of individual therapist-user interactions across modalities.

Results: Depression symptom severity was significantly reduced after the use of the multimodal digital psychotherapy intervention (P<.001). Individuals without prior traditional psychotherapy experience revealed increased improvement after intervention (P=.006). We found no significant dose-response effect of therapy, nor significant differences in outcomes across gender, self-reported financial status, and self-reported physical health status.

Conclusions: Users of BetterHelp experienced significantly reduced depression symptom severity after engaging with the platform. Study findings suggest that this intervention is equally effective across gender, self-reported financial status, and self-reported physical health status and particularly effective for individuals without a history of psychotherapy. Overall, study results suggest that multimodal digital psychotherapy is a potentially effective treatment for adult depression; nevertheless, experimental trials are needed. We discuss directions for future research.

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