SPARX: A New and Effective Computerized, CBT Self-Help Intervention for Depression

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy StudyAccording to a recent randomized control trial published in the British Medical Journal, a new computerized cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) intervention, SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts), may reduce depressive symptoms in adolescents seeking treatment as much or more than treatment as usual. SPARX, which is similar in presentation to interactive fantasy avatar computer games, provides CBT interventions (e.g., psychoeducation, activity scheduling, behavioral activation, relaxation training, cognitive restructuring, and homework, etc.)  and sets and monitors real-life challenges. (See video demonstration below.)

In the current study, 187 adolescents (ages 12 to 19) with depressive symptoms participated in either the SPARX intervention or face-to-face-treatment as usual, and were followed up for three months. Results showed that symptom reduction among participants in the SPARX group was as great as the usual care group. Furthermore, recovery rates for the SPARX group were higher than usual care when participants completed at least four homework modules. These findings suggest that SPARX is, potentially, a less expensive and more accessible treatment alternative for depressed adolescents in primary care settings where the demand for treatment is often unmet.

Merry, S. N., Stasiak, K., Shepherd, M., Frampton, C., Fleming, T., & Lucassen, M. F. (2012). The effectiveness of SPARX, a computerised self help intervention for adolescents seeking help for depression: randomised controlled non-inferiority trial. British Medical Journal, doi: 10.1136/bmj.e2598.

Bipolar Disorder benefits from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as part of treatment protocol

A recent review in Annals of General Psychiatry focuses on the current status of treatment protocols for Bipolar Disorder, which the authors describe as “a multi-faceted illness with an inevitably complex treatment.” Psychoactive drugs are, and have been for many years, primary to treatment protocols. After a review of the current data, the authors conclude that in addition to drug therapies, the best approaches to treatment and relapse prevention include psychoeduation, family-focused psychoeducation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. This multi-level approach also extends to patients’ family members; patients and their families learn to identify possible triggering factors, recognize the early signs of episodes, and initiate early interventions.

Study authors: K. N. Fountoulakis, E. Vieta, M. Siamouli, M. Valenti, S. Magiria, T. Oral, D. Fresno, P. Giannakopoulos, G. S. Kaprinis

Short-term CBT in a partial-hospital setting


Patients in partial-hospital settings live at home but come to the hospital three to five days a week to receive structured treatment. A two-week pilot study reported in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice investigated subjects who attended a mood and anxiety program in a partial-hospital setting. Researchers administered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and found a significant decrease in symptoms and negative thought patterns.

Treatment interventions were based on psychoeducation and skills training, and specifically targeted self-assessment and behavioral coping. Acquiring CBT skills prompted patients to develop a structured self awareness, which led to “reduced negative thought patterns and improved satisfaction with life.” The study authors indicated that future studies were planned to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment during a follow-up period.

Study authors: E. C. Neuhaus, M. Christopher, K. Jacob, J. Guillaumot, J. P. Burns