This month we are happy to feature Sarah Barakat. Sarah is a currently completing a combined Master of Clinical Psychology & PhD at the InsideOut Institute for Eating Disorders. Sarah recently won the Emerging Researchers@Sydney prize for the Health communication through technology stream for her presentation ‘Binge Eating eTherapy: A randomised controlled trial of an online cognitive behavioural therapy program for bulimia nervosa’.
Please tell us a little about yourself
I am a Provisional Psychologist currently enrolled in my fourth year of a combined Master of Clinical Psychology & PhD at the University of Sydney. I am conducting my PhD research within the research team at the InsideOut Institute for Eating Disorders where I am under the supervision of Dr Sarah Maguire and Professor Stephen Touyz. The InsideOut Institute houses a team of specialised eating disorder clinicians and researchers with a broad research agenda, including biological, health systems, health economics, prevention, public health promotion, clinical intervention and translational research. Through my research experience to date, as well as my Clinical Psychology training, I have become aware of numerous shortfalls which exist in the delivery of mental health care services to those in need and am passionate about the translation of eating disorders research into practice.
What is your research on?
My PhD research is primarily focused upon improving the accessibility of evidence-based treatment options for individuals with eating disorders, in particular those with binge eating and/or bulimic phenotypes. As part of my PhD, I am the Chief Investigator on a clinical trial examining the effectiveness of an online self-help treatment program titled Binge Eating eTherapy or BEeT. The BEeT program consists of 10 self-paced sessions employing low intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and actively engages patients through the use of live action therapy with a face-to-face, pre-recorded therapist, interactive activities and a calendar monitoring tool. The randomised controlled trial endeavours to compare the therapeutic benefits gained from clinician-supported version of BEeT vs. independent use of the program.
What are the real world consequences of your research?
This research is directly relevant to issues of accessibility, availability and affordability of treatment options that are pervasive in the field of eating disorders. On average only 23.2% of eating disorder suffers can access treatment (Hart, Granillo, Jorm, & Paxton, 2011), with this figure substantially lower in regional and rural areas, and only a fraction of these patients are able to access evidence-based treatment (National Eating Disorders Collaboration, 2010). Translating evidence-based therapy to an online program where treatment is standardised means that the full CBT package can be delivered online, and a clinician can guide treatment utilising less than five therapist hours. The shift towards digital interventions has the potential to offset capacity limits in several mental health teams and ensure treatment fidelity even in settings with low resources.
What does digital health mean to you?
To me, digital health represents a key opportunity to pave the way towards greater accessibility and equality within the mental treatment delivery. Unfortunately, traditional model of face-to-face, psychotherapist-led treatment continues to be promoted across health care systems despite known barriers in terms of its accessibility and affordability. If we as researchers, clinicians and service managers are able to broaden our mindset to consider the capabilities of digital health interventions, we could revolutionise mental health treatment delivery. There are numerous innovative technological features being developed that we can take advantage of in order to help deliver personalised therapeutic support via digital platforms, which ultimately have the ability to mimic face-to-face contact with a therapist. For example, “just-in-time” interventions, where smartphone sensors or digital phenotyping can be used to analysed patterns in calls, texts and phone usage so that real-time support can be provided when individuals are vulnerable to negative behaviours. And this is only just one example of the power of sophisticated digital health interventions.
The possibilities are endless!
Do you have any resources or links you would like to share?
To find out more about the InsideOut Institute for Eating Disorders visit: https://insideoutinstitute.org.au/
We are currently recruiting volunteers with bulimia nervosa to participate in a free 12-week trial of the Binge Eating eTherapy program. For more information or to express interest, please contact the Research Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit: https://beet.insideoutinstitute.org.au/
Connect with Sarah: www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-barakat-0a3567124