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J Med Internet Res. 2011 Jan 27;13(1):e11. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1522.

Acceptability of a clinician-assisted computerized psychological intervention for comorbid mental health and substance use problems: treatment adherence data from a randomized controlled trial.

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National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Randwick, NSW, Australia.



Computer-delivered psychological treatments have great potential, particularly for individuals who cannot access traditional approaches. Little is known about the acceptability of computer-delivered treatment, especially among those with comorbid mental health and substance use problems.


The objective of our study was to assess the acceptability of a clinician-assisted computer-based (CAC) psychological treatment (delivered on DVD in a clinic-setting) for comorbid depression and alcohol or cannabis use problems relative to a therapist-delivered equivalent and a brief intervention control.


We compared treatment acceptability, in terms of treatment dropout/participation and therapeutic alliance, of therapist-delivered versus CAC psychological treatment. We randomly assigned 97 participants with current depression and problematic alcohol/cannabis use to three conditions: brief intervention (BI, one individual session delivered face to face), therapist-delivered (one initial face-to-face session plus 9 individual sessions delivered by a therapist), and CAC interventions (one initial face-to-face session plus 9 individual CAC sessions). Randomization occurred following baseline and provision of the initial session, and therapeutic alliance ratings were obtained from participants following completion of the initial session, and at sessions 5 and 10 among the therapist-delivered and CAC conditions.


Treatment retention and attendance rates were equal between therapist-delivered and CAC conditions, with 51% (34/67) completing all 10 treatment sessions. No significant differences existed between participants in therapist-delivered and CAC conditions at any point in therapy on the majority of therapeutic alliance subscales. However, relative to therapist-delivered treatment, the subscale of Client Initiative was rated significantly higher among participants allocated to the BI (F(2,54) = 4.86, P = .01) and CAC participants after session 5 (F(1,29) = 9.24, P = .005), and this domain was related to better alcohol outcomes. Linear regression modeled therapeutic alliance over all sessions, with treatment allocation, retention, other demographic factors, and baseline symptoms exhibiting no predictive value.


Participants in a trial of CAC versus therapist-delivered treatment were equally able to engage, bond, and commit to treatment, despite comorbidity typically being associated with increased treatment dropout, problematic engagement, and complexities in treatment planning. The extent to which a client feels that they are directing therapy (Client initiative) may be an important component of change in BI and CAC intervention, especially for hazardous alcohol use.

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