Clinical trial to examine new tools to improve psychological treatment for young people with depression

Some studies have shown an alarming number of young people suffering from symptoms of depression. “We’re talking numbers reaching up to 60% to 80% of young people, including those who have been diagnosed with mild symptoms. And the numbers have probably increased with the pandemic,” explained Adrián Montesano, researcher and member of the Faculty of Psychology and Education at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). “Symptoms are mild in most cases, but we know that the sooner these problems are treated, the less likely they are to persist or get worse in the long term,” Montesano said.

A clinical study coordinated by Montesano with professor at UB’s Faculty of Psychology and UB’s Institute of Neuroscience (UBNeuro) Guillem Feixas will examine new tools to try to improve the psychological treatment of these people. The study will examine the benefit of personal construct therapy in young people between 18 and 29 years of age with mild or moderate symptoms of depression. It is also being studied to be more effective when implemented in conjunction with a new and groundbreaking virtual reality application. The study is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Personal construct therapy primarily focuses on how people construct their reality and the meaning they give to the things that happen to them and those around them.

Adrián Montesano, researcher and member of the Faculty of Psychology and Education, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Its results over the past few decades have been positive, but “this is the first trial that has been conducted to specifically apply it to young people with depressive symptoms,” he added. Its effectiveness will be compared to cognitive behavioral therapy, which is considered the benchmark therapy and is primarily based on observable behaviors.

Virtual reality applications have also been tried in exposure therapies to treat some types of phobias, but “this is the first time they’ve been explored in the treatment of depression and in psychotherapy in general,” Montesano confirmed. The app, called EYME, is a pioneering development by the University of Barcelona. The system uses a previous interview to transform the meanings and important people in the individual’s identity into a 3D space in the form of spheres and words. According to Montesano, it is thus possible “to accompany the person on a journey through their mind, through their universe of meanings and personal values, and to encourage a therapeutic conversation. The algorithms used are based on work done over two decades, and we believe it can have added value for young people, for whom it can improve adherence and the attractiveness of psychotherapy.”

One of the keys to psychological therapy is patient involvement. Different types of psychotherapy have shown equivalent overall rates of effectiveness, but approximately 35% of patients discontinue treatment before it is considered complete. If the clinical trial is positive, it would help broaden the range of options available. “The ability to personalize treatment based on personal preference is critical,” said Montesano.

The study has already started and the first patients are already being examined at the participating universities, health centers and hospitals involved in the project. It will enroll 225 patients and recruitment will continue through early 2023. Candidates are young people between 18 and 29 years old with mild or moderate symptoms of depression who will be offered “free therapy sessions of high scientific quality, conducted by experts, as part of the study,” explained Montesano. Volunteers can register on the project website .

“Interventions and research in psychotherapy have traditionally focused on the most severe forms, which in part has led to young people being underrepresented,” Montesano acknowledged. “Today we know that the sooner the problem is addressed, the better the long-term results. Therefore, the trend must be reversed. This is already happening in society and must also happen in research,” he concluded.


University of Oberta de Catalunya