The Priory Hospital North London is to trial an innovative PC-based multi-media tool called ‘Beating the Blues’ to help patients overcome depression and anxiety.

The PC tool will be used together with face-to-face counselling and psychotherapy and is claimed to be able to help patients with or without the use of anti-depressant drugs.

According to developers Ultrasis plc the potential for the trial is to reduce the cost of counselling for patients and increase the number of people who can access professional psychiatric help.

The new software uses principles of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to teach patients to think differently about everyday situations, helping them to control the links between behaviour, thoughts and mood.

“Beating the Blues” has been jointly developed by Ultrasis plc and Dr Judy Proudfoot of the Institute of Psychiatry, London is deigned to be used by a computer novice and provides patients with feedback on their progress.

Dr Neil Brener, medical director, of The Priory Hospital North London commented: “CBT is as effective as medication in the treatment of most cases of anxiety and depression and particularly in the prevention of relapse."

The software programme starts with a 15 minute introductory video followed by eight 50 minute sessions at the computer. Patients are also given projects to do in between the sessions.

At the end of each session patients are given a printout indicating their progress (their supervising doctor or GP also receives a copy). This indicates how anxious and depressed they reported feeling since the last session, whether they have experienced any upsets, disappointments or more serious worries, and evaluates how distressing their problems have been.

Research suggests that computerised delivery of psychotherapy, including CBT, can be as effective clinically as face-to-face delivery by a human therapist and in some cases preferable. Where problems are of a sensitive nature, sometimes patients prefer an interactive personal computer environment to personal contact.

Ultrasis say that the new programme could potentially benefit many of the 1 in 5 people in the UK who suffer from depression and anxiety.