02:22am Wednesday 19 February 2020

Web-based self-help programmes: Better willpower over the Internet

Pål Kraft and his company Changetech offer web-based services to help people to make those changes that require a little extra willpower.

Based on psychological research

Dame som røyker Changetech has received funding under the Research Council of Norway’s Programme for User-driven Research-based Innovation (BIA) to develop self-help programmes focusing on tobacco and alcohol use, post-natal depression, physical training, and coping with chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, HIV, rheumatic disorders and diabetes.

“We base our programmes on the therapy conducted in the therapist’s office,” explains Dr Kraft, “where for over 50 years psychologists have been using and refining a set of tools whose efficacy has been documented in various types of research. When developing our programmes, we have dug into the research literature, systematised it and extracted the therapeutic elements we believe can be digitalised.”

Changetech cooperates with various Norwegian and international research institutions.

Self-development therapy and intervention programmes

Changetech is targeting what is perhaps the world’s fastest growing market – self-development and wellness – and has taken its products from the research phase to the market in just five years. Today Changetech programmes are used by 1.5 users in 55 countries.

Dame som drikker In addition to lifestyle programmes, the company is also developing intervention programmes to help to prevent depression. Changetech has also developed conflict management programmes, tailored for use in couples therapy and childrearing, among other areas.

Up to now the company’s main clients have been pharmaceutical companies, although Changetech has also developed programmes for the health authorities, NGOs and other types of companies. Soon the Oslo-based company will be marketing its programmes directly to individual users under the NewMe brand.

Low-threshold help

Users never meet a therapist face-to-face; instead the programmes are delivered to users’ computers, iPads or smartphones, in a format similar to an e-Learning programme.

Gravid kvinne There are of course certain drawbacks to the fact that users never talk to a therapist. It is impossible to achieve 100 per cent individualised therapy without one-on-one therapy sessions.

But according to Dr Kraft, “The benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.”
“This kind of therapy is easily accessible. It can be used anytime and anywhere the user wants. In addition, it offers the option of anonymity. For example, we know that it is difficult for many women with alcohol problems to seek help, and we can see that groups like these are overrepresented in our programmes.”

Measuring effectiveness

The psychologists at Changetech are conducting clinical effectiveness studies to ascertain whether the programmes are working as they were intended to. The preliminary findings are promising.

“I think the reason our programmes are so effective is precisely because they are interactive. Although the programmes do not directly involve a therapist, users become deeply involved in the therapeutic process. The fact that treatment extends over a longer period than is usually the case in ordinary treatment is also an advantage,” says Dr Kraft.

Ordinarily psychologists in Norway offer a programme consisting of 10-12 one-hour sessions. In comparison, Changetech’s programme for changing alcohol consumption habits has a 58-day active change phase, with a follow-up phase of up to one year.

Develops its own technology

The researchers behind the therapy programmes have developed the technology themselves. Support from the BIA programme has enabled the company to employ two doctoral students to help out with technology development.

“Seeing as we are psychologists by profession we initially planned to outsource technology development completely. But it did not take long before we realised that the technology itself was such a major component of the end-product that we needed to have full control over it. And we have achieved better cost control in the bargain,” adds a pleased Dr Kraft.

About the project

Project title: Industrialisert produksjon av digital terapi (“Industrialised production of digital therapy”).

Project period: 1 April 2008-31 December 2011.
Project participants: Changetech, Department of Psychology at the University of Oslo.

Allocation from the BIA programme: NOK 5 699 000.

Total project costs: NOK 19 062 000.


Written by:
Siw Ellen Jakobsen/Else Lie. Translation: Victoria Coleman/Carol B. Eckmann

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