Background: A randomized control trial demonstrated that a computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT) program (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts [SPARX]) was an appealing and efficacious treatment for depression for adolescents in New Zealand. Little is known about the acceptability of computerized therapy programs for rural Australians and the suitability of computerized programs developed in one cultural context when used in another country. Issues such as accents and local differences in health care access might mean adjustments to programs are required.
Objective: This study sought to explore the acceptability of SPARX by youth in rural Australia and to explore whether and how young people would wish to access such a program.
Methods: Focus groups and semistructured interviews were conducted with 16 young people attending two youth-focused community services in a small, rural Tasmanian town. An inductive data-driven approach was used to identify themes using the interview transcripts as the primary data source. Interpretation was supported by demographic data, observer notes, and content analysis.
Results: Participants reported that young people want help for mental health issues but they have an even stronger need for controlling how they access services. In particular, they considered protecting their privacy in their small community to be paramount. Participants thought computerized therapy was a promising way to increase access to treatment for youth in rural and remote areas if offered with or without therapist support and via settings other than school. The design features of SPARX that were perceived to be useful, included the narrative structure of the program, the use of different characters, the personalization of an avatar, “socialization” with the Guide character, optional journaling, and the use of encouraging feedback. Participants did not consider (New Zealand) accents off-putting. Young people believed the SPARX program would appeal to those who play computer games generally, but may be less appealing for those who do not.
Conclusions: The findings suggest that computerized therapy offered in ways that support privacy and choice can improve access to treatment for rural youth. Foreign accents and style may not be off-putting to teenage users when the program uses a playful fantasy genre, as it is consistent with their expectation of fantasy worlds, and it is in a medium with which they already have a level of competence. Rather, issues of engaging design and confidential access appeared to be more important. These findings suggest a proven tool once formally assessed at a local level can be adopted cross-nationally.