Online cognitive behavioral therapy: The latest trend in mental health care

James Cartreine, PhD
James Cartreine, PhD, Contributing Editor

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a very effective treatment for a number of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. But not everyone is comfortable working with a therapist face-to-face, and for some people, it can be hard to afford — or even find — this treatment. Research suggests that online programs may be able to deliver CBT to a wider audience efficiently and successfully.

Complementary therapies for neck pain

Robert Shmerling, M.D.
Robert Shmerling, M.D., Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Neck pain is a common, and often frustrating, condition. Although there are many causes of neck pain, in many cases, it can be hard to know the exact reason for the pain. There is no one treatment that is reliably helpful, and treatments can take a long time to work. But a new study suggests that two complementary therapies — acupuncture and the Alexander Technique — may offer a way for neck pain sufferers to find genuine and lasting relief.

The placebo effect: Amazing and real

Robert Shmerling, M.D.
Robert Shmerling, M.D., Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many people believe that the placebo effect is solely a psychological phenomenon. But for some people, a placebo can have real, measurable therapeutic benefits. The power of the placebo effect is significant enough that it can actually skew study results. Additional research is needed to better understand how to leverage the placebo effect and when doing so might offer real benefits to patients.

Challenge your mind and body to sharpen your thinking skills

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Mental and social engagement can help keep your brain sharp and lower the chances of cognitive decline, in part because challenging our brains may help forge new connections between brain cells. The key to taking advantage of the brain’s malleability is to find activities that you truly enjoy and to commit to life-long learning.

Sleeping like a caveman?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

Recent news reports of a study of sleep duration in geographically isolated societies in Africa and South America suggest that Americans are actually getting plenty of sleep because members of these tribes spend about the same amount of time asleep each night as people in modern societies. These controversial findings will be debated, but are not relevant to the widespread sleep deficit and associated health consequences in more modern societies.

Is it ADHD—or Autism?

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism can resemble each other. In fact, it can be difficult to tell the two conditions apart, which can lead to delays in the correct diagnosis — and therefore missed opportunities for treatment. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, ask your pediatrician about testing for autism as well. The earlier a child with autism receives treatment, the better the outcome he or she will have.

The problem with prescription painkillers

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Opioids are effective pain relievers. But sometimes people can develop a tolerance to these drugs, requiring increasingly higher doses of medication to achieve the same pain relief. And physical dependence — withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped — is also common. The increased availability of these drugs has put many people at risk for addiction, overdose, and even death.

A checkup for the checkup: Do you really need a yearly physical?

Amy Ship, MD
Amy Ship, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people believe the annual physical is the cornerstone of preventive care and crucial to staying healthy. While it can be comforting to have your doctor check you over once a year, research suggests that a yearly checkup doesn’t actually help people stay healthier or live longer. But a shift away from regular exams doesn’t have to weaken your relationship with your doctor or leave gaps in preventive care. A shift in how primary care doctors take care of patients, and in how patients interact with their physicians, can keep the benefits of the annual checkup intact in other ways.

Why many generic drugs are becoming so expensive

Ameet Sarpatwari, JD, PhD
Ameet Sarpatwari, JD, PhD, Contributing Editor

Generic drugs used to be a reliable lower-cost alternative to many brand-name drugs. But thanks to a combination of market forces, the cost of many generics is rising quickly — and steeply. This trend will increase the burden of health care costs for insurers, governments, and individuals. Find out why this is happening, as well as what you can do to help sidestep these costs and advocate for policies that can stem this tide.

Is it hard to decide about total knee replacement? Totally!

Robert Shmerling, M.D.
Robert Shmerling, M.D., Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

If arthritis in your knee means you can’t do everything you want, whether that’s walking the dog or playing a game of tennis, you may be considering a knee replacement. But are the benefits “as advertised”? A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that they may be, but it’s more important to weigh the risks and benefits with your personal preferences in mind.