Direct-to-consumer marketing of psychological treatments: a randomized controlled trial
Gallo, Kaitlin P.
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Progress in disseminating and implementing evidence-based psychological treatments (EBPTs) has been gradual. To date, the dominant target for promoting EBPTs in clinical settings has been the education and training of mental health providers, with many consumers remaining unaware of EBPTs' potential benefits. The present study empirically evaluated via a randomized controlled design the preliminary utility of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of psychological treatments (PTs). American and Canadian undergraduate participants (N=344) were randomly assigned to view one of four commercial campaigns via the Internet on three occasions. Each campaign consisted of three different commercials embedded within unrelated content. Campaign content varied across participants, who were assigned to either the  Psychological Treatment (PT) campaign (n=98);  Psychological Treatment informing about Medication Side Effects (PT-MSE) campaign (n=80);  Medication (MED) campaign (n=82); or  the Neutral (NEU; i.e., control) campaign (n=84). The groups did not differ significantly on age or gender distribution. Data regarding attitudes about psychological treatment and treatment-seeking behaviors were collected prior to the intervention (T1), one week following the intervention (T2), and at a three-month follow-up evaluation (T3). It was hypothesized that those in the PT and PT-MSE conditions would have improved attitudes about psychological treatment and increased rates of seeking psychological treatment compared to those assigned to MED and NEU. The percentage of participants who newly intended psychological treatment at T2 or T3 differed by condition, with PT-MSE participants significantly more likely to have considered receiving psychological treatment than those in the other conditions. Those in PT were significantly more likely to have planned to receive psychological treatment at T2 or T3 than those in the other conditions. MED participants, as compared to participants in the other conditions, reported significantly increased levels of comfort about psychopharmacological treatment at T3. Baseline reports of DSM-IV symptomatology, stigma toward psychological treatments, media consumption, and nationality all significantly moderated various outcomes related to attitudes toward psychopharmacological and psychological treatment. The present study provides supporting evidence of the preliminary utility and efficacy of DTC marketing of PTs, suggesting that increasing consumer knowledge of PTs may be a worthwhile augmentation to EBPT dissemination and implementation efforts.