HKBU Launches Online Counseling Program for Depression

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A research team led by Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) has launched an online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program. Introduced in April 2020 for Hong Kong people with mild to moderate depressive symptoms, the program provides them with easy access to counseling services and reduces the stigma associated with depression.

The team will recruit 400 participants aged between 18 and 70 with depressive symptoms and provide training next year to around 200 local mental health professionals on how to operate this online CBT program, with the aim of serving more people in the long run.

Online CBT program to meet depression-related service needs


CANDO is supported by a grant of more than HK$4 million from the Innovation and Technology Fund for Better Living, a scheme from the Innovation and Technology Bureau. People with depression may lose motivation for treatment after waiting a long time for case appointments in specialist public clinics. As a result, CANDO hopes to reduce their waiting time by providing an easily accessible and timely service. In addition, it aims to reduce the stigma associated with this health issue by utilizing a novel service delivery model.

Blended mode of service delivery combining online and face-to-face sessions

Participants will first be selected through an online screening questionnaire. Those who show mild to moderate depressive symptoms will be invited to participate in the program, while high-risk cases will be referred to the social service sector for urgent follow-up.

CANDO is designed to help participants cope with their depression by adjusting how they think and what they do, and it also incorporates problem-solving approaches. The program adopts a blended model of service delivery comprising eight online weekly modules, and it includes mood check, information briefings, case demonstration videos, a forum, and assignments delivered on the program website or mobile app. Two face-to-face sessions plus two telephone follow-ups will also be conducted by a clinical psychologist to review the progress of service users. Participants will have to complete online assessments to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

CANDO is tailored for Hong Kong people and it is based on an online CBT program developed in Sweden. It is delivered in Cantonese, with the five case demonstration videos adapted and produced from local cases to fit the language and cultural context of Hong Kong.

A novel approach to tackling depression and reducing the healthcare burden

Over the last decade, research has shown that online CBT programs can produce similar outcomes to traditional face-to-face interventions. Studies have demonstrated that depressive symptoms can be significantly reduced upon completion of such online CBT programs. The positive effects were also maintained at the six-month follow-up.

“With the rapid development of new technology, online approaches to providing counseling services for people with depression have become an alternative to traditional face-to-face mental health services in places like North America and Northern Europe. However, it is still a novel approach with huge development potential in Hong Kong,” said Dr Pan.

“By using a minimal level of resources, including the deployment of mental health professionals to serve as many people as possible, online counseling programs such as CANDO can reduce the financial burden of treating depression in Hong Kong, and alleviate the problems associated with the shortage of mental health professionals in the long run,” Dr Pan added.

CANDO is now accepting applications for participation in the program. Registration and participation in the program are free of charge. Further details can be found on the program webpage (https://cando.hkbu.edu.hk) on 28 April 2020. Those who are interested can call 3411 5686 or email [email protected] for inquiries.