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UI researchers study use of multimedia program to treat depression

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa College of Medicine researcher is studying an unusual method of treating depression.

Dr. Wayne A. Bowers, UI associate professor of psychiatry, is leading a pilot study to determine the effectiveness of an interactive multimedia program that teaches depressed people what cognitive therapy is and how it can help them deal with every-day situations.

"We want to find out if people can learn to work through some aspects of depression on their own through the use of cognitive therapy," Bowers says.

The program, which was written at the University of Louisville, is a new concept, according to Bowers. Depression is traditionally treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two. This program allows people to play an active role in their own recovery.

The program is run on a computer hooked up to a laser disc player. It consists of video segments interspersed with hypertext screens that either present new information or review material from the video.

Users interact with the computer when they are quizzed on the principles of cognitive therapy and when they indicate they are ready to move on to the next segment. The program also is accompanied by a workbook with summaries and homework assignments for each section.

According to Lynn Ansher, a UI research assistant working on the study, the multimedia format is beneficial.

"Some people learn better by listening, while others learn better by reading or writing," she says. "This is very user-friendly, and people are able to go at their own pace."

The program begins with an introduction to cognitive therapy. Because cognitive therapy is intended to help people change the negative styles of thought and behavior that are often a part of depression, the next four sections demonstrate how events, thoughts, emotions and actions affect each other.

To illustrate these concepts, video segments show a depressed woman interacting with friends, family and co-workers. She exhibits many common symptoms of depression, including a decreased interest in social activities and trouble getting work done at home and at the office. Viewers are also privy to her negative thoughts.

After each video segment, users are asked to identify the woman's negative thoughts. Then, the scenes are replayed. This time the woman reacts to the same events with more positive thoughts and, as a result, more positive emotions and actions.

Ansher says the video segments are important because they help viewers understand that it is possible to change the way they think. The segments also illustrate the symptoms of depression and let sufferers know they are not alone.

Symptoms of depression can include withdrawal from people and activities, loss of enjoyment of life, and feelings of sadness, worthlessness or hopelessness. Physical symptoms can include body aches, pains and fatigue, sleeping too much or too little, and a change in eating habits. It is considered a whole-body illness because it affects body, mood, thoughts and behavior.

Bowers says anyone who has been diagnosed with depression or experiences symptoms of depression is a candidate for his study. While he prefers candidates who have not received any treatment, those who are on medication but have not received cognitive therapy may be eligible.

Participants will be required to make at least six visits to the UI campus to use the computer program. They will be asked to fill out several questionnaires about their symptoms before beginning the program and after completing each of the six segments.

To apply for the study or to request more information, call Bowers at (319) 353-6301.