Dial up a Therapist

Depression can be successfully treated over the telephone

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Have you ever called your therapist?  New research suggests that therapy for patients with major depressive disorder can effectively be delivered over the phone.

A new study finds that people are more likely to stick with therapy in the beginning stages if they can dial in for the session.

When comparing the first six months the results of face-to-face vs. telephone therapy are relatively the same.

"Talk to your therapist about phone meetings."

Dr. David C. Mohr, PhD, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and his team of researchers wanted to know if delivering therapy over the phone is effective.

Around 75 percent of people with depression report having serious trouble physically getting to their therapy appointments due to transportation, accessibility or cost.

Getting patients with depression to attend regularly scheduled appointments is a problem that needs a solution.

What researchers needed to discover is whether or not telephone therapy is as effective as face-to-face therapy.

According to Dr. Mohr, “Our study found psychotherapy conveniently provided by telephone to patients wherever they are is effective and reduces dropout. This suggests these services now should be covered by insurance.”

Researchers looked at 325 patients in the greater Chicago area that had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder for their randomized controlled trial. They were separated into two groups: one group had face-to-face therapy and the other had therapy over the phone; both sessions were once a week for 18 weeks.

Patients were more likely to stay in therapy over the phone, only 20.9 percent dropped out of that group, while 32.7 percent dropped out of face-to-face therapy.

The most notable drop of patients was after only five weeks with seven patients in the telephone therapy group and 21 in the face-to-face group.

In the short term, six months, both groups improved equally in terms of their depressive symptoms.

Over a longer period the face-to-face group reported fewer symptoms of depression, by scoring three points lower on the depression scale.

“The three point difference is of questionable clinical significance but it raises the question whether some individuals are at risk of worsening after treatment with telephone therapy compared to face-to-face,” says Dr. Mohr.

The authors conclude: “The findings of this study suggest that telephone-delivered care has both advantages and disadvantages. The acceptability of delivering care over the telephone is growing, increasing the potential for individuals to continue with treatment. The telephone offers the opportunity to extend care to populations that are difficult to reach, such as rural populations, patients with chronic illnesses and disabilities, and individuals who otherwise have barriers to treatment.”

This study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, June 2012.

The funding for this study was provided by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 5, 2012
Last Updated:
October 15, 2012