The Marcel Benoist Swiss Science Prize goes to a pioneer of online psychotherapy

Thomas Berger has shown that online psychotherapy works. For his groundbreaking research, he receives the Marcel Benoist Swiss Science Prize.

Thomas Berger develops and tests therapies to prevent and treat psychological problems and disorders using digital aids such as apps and websites. He is a professor of clinical psychology and psychotherapy at the University of Bern and a leading exponent of psychotherapy research. In his work, he has compared online treatment methods with purely conventional forms of psychotherapy and empirically shown them to be effective. He is awarded this year's Marcel Benoist Swiss Science Prize, known as the 'Swiss Nobel prize' among researchers and endowed with 250,000 francs.

“I am incredibly honoured to receive the Marcel Benoist Swiss Science Prize. This is a tremendous endorsement of the work and research undertaken with the support of my amazing research team and collaborative partners. At the same time, it is acknowledgement of our joint efforts to make effective psychological interventions accessible to a large number of people,” states Berger enthusiastically.

Among other things, the web-based self-help programmes developed by Berger can be used to treat depression and anxiety, the two most common mental disorders in Switzerland. Other online tools offer help with sleep disorders or with psychological distress after illnesses and separations. Berger has also successfully developed “blended treatments”, which combine online treatments with face-to-face therapy sessions.

Readily available digital services can greatly improve access to treatment for certain groups of patients, such as those who are absolutely unable or unwilling to see a therapist. Since the start of government measures to tackle the coronavirus situation, however, Internet-based forms of therapy have also become crucial for society as a whole. And demand is on the rise. Thomas Berger and his team are currently working on projects to further improve the effectiveness of self-help and blended approaches to treat depression and anxiety disorders. They are also working with cooperation partners to develop an app for suicide prevention as well as online interventions for vulnerable groups in society, such as refugees, who are particularly difficult to reach through conventional services.

Joint ceremony in Bern

Mandated by the Marcel Benoist Foundation, the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF chose the winner on the basis of scientific criteria. The award ceremony, a joint event for the Swiss Science Prizes Benoist and Latsis, will take place at the Rathaus in Bern on 4 November 2021.

The President of the Marcel Benoist Foundation, Guy Parmelin, will present the awards. He had this to say about the event: “I am extremely pleased that we can present the 2021 Swiss science prizes to two outstanding researchers. Thomas Berger and Nicola Aceto are both making great contributions to our society through their work. They are prime examples of Swiss research excellence.”

2021 Laureate: Thomas Berger

Thomas Berger (1971) grew up in Konolfingen and studied psychology at the University of Bern. He earned his PhD at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau and also worked as a psychotherapist, including at the Kilchberg Psychiatric Clinic. After working as a senior research assistant at both the University of Geneva and the University of Bern, he was selected for an SNSF scholarship to conduct research at Linköping University in Sweden. He then returned to the University of Bern to write his habilitation thesis under an SNSF Ambizione grant.

In 2013, he was hired by the University of Bern to teach and conduct research as part of an SNSF-funded professorship. In 2018, he was given full tenure at the University of Bern's Institute of Psychology and appointed as head of the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy. Thomas Berger has been involved in two major European research programmes and has received several awards for his research, including the Outstanding Early Career Achievement Award from the Society for Psychotherapy Research.

About the Marcel Benoist Foundation

Each year since 1920, the Marcel Benoist Foundation has awarded a prize for outstanding research that has an impact on the lives of people. In so doing, the foundation pays tribute to researchers who exemplify the excellence of research conducted in Switzerland. The prizes are awarded independently without regard to any specific university. Eleven laureates have already gone on to receive the Nobel Prize. The nomination and selection process is conducted by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) on behalf of the Marcel Benoist Foundation. The 2021 prize is awarded in the humanities and social sciences.

This press release was issued by the Marcel Benoist Foundation and the Latsis Foundation.