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What is iCBT?

Accredited Counsellor MBACP, Clinical and Team Manager at Bupa UK
08 September 2020
Many of us will have heard of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) - a common type of talking therapy that can help to change negative patterns in how you think, feel and behave. But how familiar are you with internet-delivered CBT (iCBT), and how does this differ to CBT in person? Here I’ll explain.

What is iCBT?

iCBT is online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that is delivered on mobile phones or computers. It’s also known as computerised CBT (cCBT) and can be as effective as face-to-face therapy in supporting people with their mental health.

What are the differences between iCBT and CBT?

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a widely used face-to-face (in-person) psychological therapy for many types of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. It can also benefit anyone wanting to better manage stressful life situations. It does this by helping you to find ways to actively change how you feel or behave, so you feel better.

iCBT is the same as face-to-face CBT in almost every way. It offers a range of confidential web-based programmes and online tools designed to help you understand more about your current difficulties. It then walks you through useful techniques based on CBT. Depending on the type of programme you use, you may be given a trained iCBT supporter to help you get the most benefit from it.

What does the evidence say?

Current national UK guidelines recommend iCBT if you have mild to moderate depression or anxiety. Over the past few decades, internet-based CBT has grown, along with evidence to support its treatment for depression and other mental health problems.

For example, one study found that for some people, iCBT can be just as effective as face-face-therapy. The findings also recommend that iCBT should be seriously considered by therapists and people seeking treatment for depression and anxiety.

What are the benefits of iCBT?

Face-to-face CBT is not always easily available due to the demands of our busy lives. This is especially true during the current COVID-19 pandemic, when many of our health needs are being addressed online. The iCBT programmes have been developed by health care professionals to address such barriers, by allowing you to access CBT remotely and when you need to.

As an online-based treatment, iCBT is available for free on the NHS, and provides a more cost-effective option of accessing treatment by cutting out the need for travel. You might also find accessing help online is more convenient, and feels like a safer and more private way to receive therapy. This can be helpful if you are worried about accessing support in a more public setting, such as going to a doctor’s surgery.

How can I access online cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT)?

There are some online supported cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programmes available in the UK, such as SilverCloud, which is supported by the NHS, Bupa and other organisations.

SilverCloud helps with a wide range of issues, including depression and/or anxiety. It also has programmes for obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic and phobia, stress, mindfulness and positive body image. There is even a COVID-19 specific module, focusing on health anxiety and social anxiety.

How does a SilverCloud therapy programme typically work?

This type of programme includes a list of interactive online modules you can complete at your own pace, including articles and tools to support you. Some of these tools will help you to understand the triggers in your situation and how to address them, so you feel better.

A trained practitioner also offers support and guidance throughout the course of therapy, so you always have someone to check in with. They’ll recommend modules and tools in the programme for you to access at each stage. This will help you to get the best out of the programme.

After you’ve finished the programme, typically in six to eight weeks, you can access it for up to a year. This will help you to keep up the good practices you’ll have learned in managing your thoughts. It also allows you to refresh yourself on the techniques whenever you need to.

Jen Taylor
Accredited Counsellor MBACP, Clinical and Team Manager at Bupa UK

    • Luo C et al. (2020) A comparison of electronically-delivered and face to face cognitive behavioural therapies in depressive disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. EClinicalMedicine. Published online 27 June. doi: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100442
    • Depression in adults: recognition and management. NICE guidance. www.nice.org.uk, updated October 2009
    • Depression in children and young people: identification and management. NICE guidance. www.nice.org.uk, published 25 June 2019
    • Cognitive and behavioural therapies. Patient. www.patient.info, last updated 2 April 2014
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    • Generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults: management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). www.nice.org.uk, published January 2011
    • Webb et al. Internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Depression: Current Progress & Future Directions. Harv Rev Psychiatry 2017; 25(3): 114–122. doi:10.1097/HRP.0000000000000139
    • N. Titov et al. ICBT in routine care: A descriptive analysis of successful clinics in five countries. Internet Interventions 13 2018; 108–115115. doi: 10.1016/j.invent.2018.07.006

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