Behind the scenes of online therapeutic feedback in blended therapy for depression: Mixed-methods observational study

Mayke Mol*, Els Dozeman, Simon Provoost, Anneke Van Schaik, Heleen Riper, Johannes H. Smit

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: In Internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapies (iCBT), written feedback by therapists is a substantial part of therapy. However, it is not yet known how this feedback should be given best and which specific therapist behaviors and content are most beneficial for patients. General instructions for written feedback are available, but the uptake and effectiveness of these instructions in iCBT have not been studied yet. Objective: This study aimed to identify therapist behaviors in written online communication with patients in blended CBT for adult depression in routine secondary mental health care, to identify the extent to which the therapists adhere to feedback instructions, and to explore whether therapist behaviors and adherence to feedback instructions are associated with patient outcome. Methods: Adults receiving blended CBT (10 online sessions in combination with 5 face-to-face sessions) for depression in routine mental health care were recruited in the context of the European implementation project MasterMind. A qualitative content analysis was used to identify therapist behaviors in online written feedback messages, and a checklist for the feedback instruction adherence of the therapists was developed. Correlations were explored between the therapist behaviors, therapist instruction adherence, and patient outcomes (number of completed online sessions and symptom change scores). Results: A total of 45 patients (73%, 33/45 female, mean age 35.9 years) received 219 feedback messages given by 19 therapists (84%, 16/19 female). The most frequently used therapist behaviors were informing, encouraging, and affirming. However, these were not related to patient outcomes. Although infrequently used, confronting was positively correlated with session completion (ρ=.342, P=.02). Therapists adhered to most of the feedback instructions. Only 2 feedback aspects were correlated with session completion: the more therapists adhere to instructions containing structure (limiting to 2 subjects and sending feedback within 3 working days) and readability (short sentences and short paragraphs), the less online sessions were completed (ρ=−.340, P=.02 and ρ=−.361, P=.02, respectively). No associations were found with depression symptom change scores. Conclusions: The therapist behaviors found in this study are comparable to previous research. The findings suggest that online feedback instructions for therapists provide sufficient guidance to communicate in a supportive and positive manner with patients. However, the instructions might be improved by adding more therapeutic techniques besides the focus on style and form.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere174
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2018


  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Depressive disorder
  • EHealth


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