How an e-CBT service can provide support before psychotherapy

Ian Bolland spoke to Farina Schurzfeld co-founder and CMO of Selfapy, a German start-up which offers online cognitive behaviour therapy. They discuss the service and the availability of mental health services.

The aim of Selfapy is to provide those suffering from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders some psychological support before they see a psychotherapist, during their waiting times in Germany.

Patients undergo a 12-week course and treatments can vary and cross over depending on their particular issue. Topics it covers includes the importance of routines, how negative thoughts can affect you and self-esteem.

Schurzfeld explained: “It looks almost like an e-learning course with videos that you watch with exercises you do in order to improve your comprehension of the content, as well as graphics. Every week you get a weekly exercise. You go through this weekly exercise with your psychologist when you talk to them once a week or every fortnight.

“Someone who has an eating disorder sometimes also has problems with topics like self-esteem but generally the courses are individualised for the patients. Also, you can set your goals from the beginning meaning the course actually individualises to your particular situation which is something we are building on – to make it more and more individual.”

Selfapy has recently been accepted on to the Kickstart Programme as it looks to expand internationally. Factors surrounding mental health is something that Schurzfeld feels varies from country-to-country when it comes to stigma, and that still applies when seeking psychological support.

It’s hoped the service can be offered in different countries, meaning Selfapy could broaden its target market from German speaking countries to elsewhere.

“People do still have to suffer quite a lot, I would say, to see a psychotherapist, that is what is happening.

“In Germany quite a lot of people see psychotherapists who are not actually mentally ill. For example, people who haven’t slept well for three or four nights go and see a psychotherapist because they think they have a sleeping disorder. There’s no pre-assessment.

“In Germany right now, they are trying to launch a pre-assessment for mentally ill people which I’m not sure if it’s easy to implement either. The second thing is, like going to a doctor, if you are mentally ill you have to rely on a psychotherapist helping you, and you can’t really assess the quality standards that this person delivers.”

So is this something that could be adopted by the NHS? Schurzfeld does feel like it’s a programme that can be integrated successfully in the UK.

“I think the NHS would be interested to cover a programme like ours because it is a good way to reduce the time you’ll spend with a psychotherapist if you’ve gone through an online programme.

“I don’t think we’ll ever replace a psychotherapist entirely, that’s not our goal. Myself, I quite like the personal connection of seeing somebody, being in front of them. It’s different for different people but I guess for me it’s important.”

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