Accessibility statement

REEACT: The Randomised Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Acceptability of Computerised Therapy

This randomised controlled trial of computerised cognitive behaviour therapy for the treatment of depression in primary care, showed benefits to be minimal and uptake for therapy to be relatively low.

Why did we do this research?

Many patients and health-care professionals would like access to psychological therapy as an alternative or adjunct to antidepression medication. A leading evidence-supported form of brief psychological therapy for people with depression is cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), however, demand exceeds existing therapist resources. Computerised CBT (cCBT) represents an alternative form of therapy delivery that has the potential to enhance access to psychological care.

In this study we compared the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of computerised cognitive behaviour therapy (cCBT) as an adjunct to usual general practitioner (GP) care against usual GP care alone, for a free-to-use cCBT and a commercial pay-to-use cCBT program for adults with depression, and to determine the acceptability of cCBT and the experiences of users.

What did we do?

We undertook a pragmatic, multicentre, three-armed, parallel, randomised controlled trial with economic and qualitative evaluations. The design included a fully randomised patient preference approach. Participants were randomised using simple randomisation with allocation concealed. Participants were randomised to receive: (1) a free-to-use cCBT program (MoodGYM) plus usual GP care; (2) a commercial pay-to-use cCBT program (Beating the Blues) plus usual GP care; or (3) usual GP care alone. 

Potential participants were identified through GP practices. Those aged 18 years and over with a score of 10 or above on a validated depression severity instrument were eligible to participate.

What did we find?

Clinical effectiveness: 210 patients were randomised to Beating the Blues, 242 patients were randomised to MoodGYM and 239 patients were randomised to usual GP care (total 691). There was no difference in the primary outcome, depression measured at four months, either between Beating the Blues and usual GP care or between MoodGYM and usual GP care. 

The benefits previously observed in developer-led trials were not found in this large pragmatic trial. The benefits of cCBT when added to routine primary care were minimal, and uptake of this mode of therapy was relatively low. There remains a clinical and economic need for effective low-intensity psychological treatments for depression with improved patient engagement.

What have we learned? 

There is a clinical and economic need for brief, low-intensity self-help interventions for depression. The finding that computer-based therapies had low uptake and were not well regarded underlines both the need to further understand barriers to uptake of such therapies and the need for trials of alternative forms of guided self-help or brief psychological intervention.

Although technically supported cCBT is largely ineffective and inefficient, a more highly supported form of cCBT with therapeutic advice, guidance and psychological support may in fact improve outcomes at an acceptable level of cost. 

In the longer term, if computers are to be used to deliver psychological treatment with minimal therapist input, then there needs to be improved patient experience and engagement through greater personalisation of treatment packages. This requires further research and innovation at the human–computer interface.


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Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK


  • Ricardo Araya
  • D.P. Kesser

University of Bristol


  • Linda Gask
  • Peter Bower
  • Helen Lester
  • Karina Lovell
  • Nicola Lidbetter

University of Manchester


  • Glenys Parry
  • Michael Barkham
  • Cindy Cooper

University of Sheffield


The research was commissioned by NIHR HTA programme (Award ID: 06/43/504) and a grant of £161,819.17 awarded. The project was started in November 2013 and completed in December 2016.

Study registration

This trial is registered as ISRCTN91947481.