Philadelphia offers online help for anxiety, depression

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    The Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health is rolling out the next phase of its “Beating the Blues” program, a free eight-week course in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and depression.

    Participants are first screened for more serious mental health issues, and have the option to communicate virtually with a licensed counselor and other participants as they complete the program.

    Behavioral Health Commissioner Dr. Arthur Evans says the online course is not meant to replace face-to-face therapy.

    “Different things are appealing to different groups, and by offering an online version of [cognitive behavioral therapy], we think we’re reaching a group of people who might not go to a traditional program or who might not be ready to go to a traditional program,” said Evans.

    The program is part of a population health approach to intervene and treat someone early, Evans said, adding it will help more people access treatment.

    But some mental health professionals aren’t so sure. Christine Molnar, president of the Philadelphia Behavior Therapy Association, said she’s concerned it doesn’t address the needs of those with psychosis and substance abuse disorders.

    “An unfortunate practical reality is we don’t have many resources, and people fall through the cracks all the time,” said Molnar. “Unfortunately, the people who fall through the cracks, I don’t think they’re going to be responsive to an online [cognitive behavior therapy] program. And, in fact, the ‘Beat the Blues’ research doesn’t even address many of their needs.”

    Despite her misgivings, Molnar conceded that online treatment for some people may be better than no treatment at all.

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