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Researchers developing internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy for persons with neurological conditions

Dr. Swati Mehta

Dr. Swati Mehta and a collaborative research team are developing internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that meets the needs of persons with neurological conditions.

St. Joseph’s: Parkwood Institute - 

With an aging population, neurological conditions like stroke, brain injury and multiple sclerosis (MS) are on the rise in Canada. Those living with neurological conditions face many long-term challenges that can affect both their physical and cognitive functioning. They are also at an increased risk for mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.

“While mental health challenges are common for those with neurological conditions, they often go untreated for a number of reasons,” says Dr. Swati Mehta, Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute. “For example, those living in remote areas often do not have access to specialized services and many patients are concerned about stigma.” 

Yet seeking mental health care is critically important for patients with neurological conditions. “Research suggests that depression among these patients can impair recovery, leading to decreased quality of life and increased health care costs.”

To improve patient outcomes, Dr. Mehta and a collaborative research team are developing an internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (ICBT) program.

Drs. Swati Mehta and Eldoh Loh

Dr. Swati Mehta (left), Lawson Scientist, and Dr. Eldon Loh (right), Lawson Associate Scientist, are working with a collaborative team to develop the specialized program.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a specialized type of therapy that involves patients learning strategies and skills to self-manage mental health symptoms. It’s one of the most widely used therapies for the treatment of depression and anxiety. 

A panel of researchers, persons with lived experience of neurological conditions and community organizations are working collaboratively to develop an accessible ICBT program that meets the needs of persons with neurological conditions and mild cognitive impairment who are also experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety. The program, called The Neuro Course, will be a modified version of an existing course developed in Australia by the eCentreClinic.

“Through co-development with patients and experts in the field, the ICBT program will meet the specific needs of persons with neurological conditions who are also experiencing mental health challenges,” explains Dr. Mehta. “With online delivery, it can provide personalized treatment while being flexible and easily accessible.”

The Neuro Course will be piloted with a small group of research participants, including patients from Parkwood Institute, a part of St. Joseph’s Health Care London. Eligible participants can sign up to be notified of the course’s availability at https://www.onlinetherapyuser.ca/neuro

The free online course consists of six easy-to-understand CBT lessons and will take approximately 10 weeks to complete. In addition to the six lessons, participants will be encouraged to work through various activities during the week.

Dr. Mehta at computer

Participants will also receive regular support from a designated online guide. Guides will be health educators who are certified providers or graduate students working under the supervision of certified providers. All guides will have training in psychology or social work. The participant’s guide will review the participant’s progress and answer any questions or comments through a secure messaging system.  

Participants in the study will be asked to complete brief questionnaires before they begin the course, on a weekly basis throughout the course and then again three months after treatment ends. The research team will use the questionnaires to assess patient outcomes and improve future versions of the course.

The goal of the program is to overcome barriers to face-to-face therapy, such as limited access to specialized care and concerns about stigma related to seeking care, by providing an effective online alternative. By reaching those in need, the research team hopes to improve patient outcomes and overall wellbeing. 

“The long term goal would be to implement the ICBT program into clinical practice to provide increased access to mental health services among this population,” says Dr. Mehta. “The program could be used to provide care to those with mild to moderate mental health concerns or those waiting to access face-to-face programs.”

The team is being funded for this project through Lawson’s Internal Research Fund (IRF) competition. “As an early career researcher, receiving funding from Lawson’s IRF is a great honour. It’s a great opportunity to help researchers obtain funding for small feasibility studies to develop evidence for larger grants that can be used to translate knowledge across the community,” states Dr. Mehta.

Lawson’s IRF is designed to provide Lawson scientists the opportunity to obtain start-up funds for new projects with the potential to obtain larger funding, be published in a high-impact journal, or provide a clinical benefit to patients. Funding is provided by the clinical departments of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, as well as the hospital foundations (London Health Sciences Foundation and St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation).
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