Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of therapy that has been proven effective for a variety of conditions, including depression, substance abuse, OCD, etc. In particular, CBT is the world's leading evidence-based psychological treatment for anxiety, with over 1000 randomized controlled trials supporting its efficacy. In general, it is known to be one of the most effective ways to make long term, positive changes in your life.
CBT works by systematically targeting unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that are your maintaining the problem. It is founded on the idea that thoughts and emotions are deeply connected, and by changing the way that we think and behave, we can actually improve the way we feel. There are a number of common, but unhelpful, thought patterns that can be successfully targeted using CBT. For example, consider "catastrophizing", which involves exaggerating the potential negative impact of a situation. Assume you have just had a bad social experience. If you catastrophize the situation, you may convince yourself that you made a fool of yourself, and everyone is thinking poorly of you. If you continue to dwell on this thought, it will lower your mood, despite the fact there is a high probability that the thought is completely unfounded. Also, your interpretation of the situation might lead to avoidance of future social situations.
The general idea behind CBT is that you first identify which behaviors and thought patterns are maladaptive, and then you "challenge" these behaviors and thoughts using exercises, experiments, etc. The goal is to learn about your relationship with these harmful thoughts and behaviors, and ultimately reduce their occurrence, leading to improved happiness.
CBT can be delivered through the Internet in a number of ways. Using a video chat program, such as Skype, is very similar to in-person therapy, with the main difference being that the patient and therapist can be far away from each other. Emails, SMS, online chats, etc. can also be used to administer CBT. All of these methods essentially use the Internet as a delivery medium, and the therapy is similar to what one may receive with face-to-face treatment.
One of the advantages of CBT, as opposed to many other forms of therapy, is that the process lends itself to automation. This is because the research effort over the past 40 years has developed well defined strategies and procedures that can be codified into a rigorous treatment program. Computerized CBT is able to administer the full course of a CBT treatment without the involvement of a therapist. The core concepts behind CBT are taught to the user via text, audio and video instructions. Advanced systems, such as AI-Therapy's Overcome Social Anxiety, are built upon a database of carefully collected domain knowledge. This information is used to automatically identify the user's specific unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. Finally, the online system tailors a treatment program specifically towards the user. For example, the treatment may include thought-challenging experiments determined based on the patient's reported symptoms.
A common question about online CBT is whether or not it works as well as in-person therapy. As mentioned above, some forms of online CBT, such as video conferencing, are actually quite similar to traditional therapy, and are expected to work equally well. Computerized CBT is more difficult to evaluate, as there are many factors to consider. For example, a fully automated online CBT treatment program designed by expert clinicians will almost certainly perform better than in-person treatment administered by a poorly trained therapist. In some ways, the question "what is better?" misses the mark. Psychologist and psychiatrist are not worried that their jobs will soon become obsolete. In other words, online and computer-based CBT programs are unlikely to replace the services provided by professionals any time soon. However, these systems do address an important need in modern mental health treatment. There are many people around the world who would benefit enormously from evidence-based techniques such as CBT. However, for one reason or another, they are unable access in-person services. Online CBT, both fully automated and therapist assisted, has the potential to reach these people and improve their quality of life.