Counselling services offered during the COVID-19 pandemic are helping people deal with the anxieties, a new study shows.
Conducted by a research team headed by Dr Hamed Al Sinawi, a senior consultant in old age psychiatry at Sultan Qaboos University, the study provides preliminary evidence to support the effectiveness of online therapy to reduce anxiety and depression that originate from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study also shows that therapy provided by trained counsellors has a better impact than self-administered therapy.
This research project, funded by the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MoHERI) within the COVID-19 Research Programme, aimed to assess the efficacy of therapist guided e-therapy versus self-help email delivered therapy.
In the first phase, the research team surveyed a sample of 1,580 participants, among whom 30 per cent (474 participants) were found to suffer from anxiety and depression.
During the second phase, the research team randomly selected 44 participants out of the 474 suffering from the above symptoms, and tested the two types of therapy on them.
22 of them received one online session per week over a span of six weeks from psychotherapists in either Arabic or English, while the other 22 received an automatic weekly newsletter through e-mail containing self-help information and tips to cope with distress associated with COVID-19.
The psychotherapists utilised the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), on the basis of their training background, and which approaches best suited the participants in these sessions.
On the other hand, information offered to the other group that received the automatic weekly newsletter through e-mail mainly consisted of behavioural tips from principles of CBT and ACT.
After finishing the sixth week of the trial, all the participants in both groups were assessed on their mood and anxiety symptoms via email-linked questionnaires. The study found that symptoms of anxiety and depression did reduce in both groups, yet a greater reduction was observed in those who had received therapist guided e-therapy.