Online therapy boosts long-term recovery for young people experiencing first episode psychosis

Online therapy boosts long-term recovery for young people experiencing first episode psychosis

29 April 2022

Young people who use online therapy in an engaged and consistent way can improve their long-term recovery prospects, new research by Orygen has found. 

The study investigated young people’s use of Orygen Digital’s online social therapy platform Horyzons, based on the MOST (Moderated Online Social Therapy) model.

Horyzons is the first clinically tested online social network intervention designed to support young people experiencing First Episode Psychosis (FEP). It has a social network, bite-sized therapy modules, and access to clinicians, peer workers and vocational workers. 

Orygen researcher Shaunagh O'Sullivan said the study explored how young people were using the Horyzons platform and what parts of it had improved their long-term recovery. 

“We discovered there were three main user groups: those who engaged with both the social and therapy elements, those who only engaged with social elements and those who had low usage overall,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

“We found that those who engaged well with both the social networking and therapy components showed greater improvement in their social functioning and symptoms over six months than other users." 

Ms O’Sullivan said the findings showed that both therapy and social support are important in achieving long-term recovery for young people with first-episode psychosis.

“This is important as it helps us predict what tools will help young people in the future who present with this diagnosis,” she said.

The study compared the Horyzons group with young people receiving traditional face-to-face therapy. 

“We found that the Horyzons group that engaged with both the therapy and social elements had a better recovery after six months than those who only engaged with traditional therapy,” Ms O’Sullivan said. 

Traditionally, FEP has been hard to recover from due to the need for long-term engagement and support. This research will have implications for first episode psychosis treatment in the future. 

“Using digital interventions like Horyzons will enable us to provide continuous, engaging and sustainable support to maintain long-term treatment effects,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

“These digital platforms appeal to young people who have grown up surrounded by technology. They can access it 24/7, so it enables them to get support more quickly and reduces their chances of relapsing.” 

Chief of Orygen Digital Mario Alvarez-Jimenez said: “Our findings support the therapeutic value of MOST and the importance of examining patterns of usage to identify what elements can improve recovery. This is especially important as other digital interventions based on the MOST model are being implemented into clinical services.”

Ms O’Sullivan’s study, Characterising Usage of a Multicomponent Digital Intervention to Predict Treatment Outcomes in First-Episode Psychosis: A Cluster Analysis has been recently published in JMIR Mental Health

The Horyzons study was funded by the Victorian Government’s Mental Illness Research Fund and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.