Salut!, a world first in online therapy for eating disorders
At a time when growing numbers of Europeans are suffering from eating disorders that risk both their physical and mental health, the conclusion of the Salut! project has opened up a new world of solutions to these serious medical conditions.
The IST programme-funded initiative has developed online tools for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of eating disorders, including a self-help guide to treat sufferers of Bulimia, which affects up to 4 per cent of European women.
Although self-treatment manuals have been developed in the past, the Salut! self-help guide is the first structured program available online and in multiple languages. This, the project believes, places Europe in the lead in the development of therapeutic tools to treat eating disorders.
"The application of new ICT technologies to the treatment of eating disorders is something that has largely been overlooked until now," explains project coordinator Tony Lam at NetUnion in Switzerland. "What we did was integrate the knowledge and know-how of experts into a structured online program for Bulimia that I believe is currently the only one available in the world."
Clinical trials show that the online tools offer a variety of important benefits compared to traditional methods. Most significantly they make treatment more accessible to a larger number of sufferers, overcoming fears and spurring self-motivation while at the same reducing the burden on healthcare professionals.
"We wanted to provide better services to patients without increasing therapists workload," Lam explains.
A survey among trial patients showed that 73 per cent favour the idea of treating themselves, a result that indicates how the online program helps overcome feelings of shame among sufferers and makes them feel empowered to solve their eating problems. Similarly, 42 per cent highlighted the convenience of the system, which requires only three face-to-face interviews with a therapist and makes treatment more accessible and immediate.
Most of the four-month, seven-step program is carried out online, including weekly e-mail contact with a therapist and the elaboration of a food diary that allows patients to observe and understand their eating habits.
Although Salut! ended in March, there has been keen interest among the project partners and others to continue its development. Clinical trials are ongoing with Bulimia sufferers in Sweden and Spain while another is about to start in Germany.
Lam sees these achievements as a first step toward the development of an e-mental health service sector, a future in which the Salut! methodology can be applied to other related health problems such as obesity, and other mental health problems, such as pathological gambling or stress and anxiety.
20 Av. des Figuiers
Source: Based on information from Salut!
Tara Morris | IST Results
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