VA Phone Therapy

Getting vets into mental health treatment rates improved with phone motivation chats

(RxWiki News) Mental health treatment is available for veterans, but getting many to take advantage of resources can be tough. Pre-therapy phone sessions helped to motivate some into the next step.

A recent study tested telephone motivational interviews with VA counselors vs. neutral phone check-ins to get veterans into mental health treatments. Engaging in therapy after the motivational interviews was more than twice as likely than the control group.

"Find a therapist immediately if you’re having mental health problems."

Karen Seal, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco, led a study into telephone therapy for veterans.

From 2008 to 2011, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were screened for mental health problems over the telephone by Veterans Affiars (VA) staff.

Those who had tested positive, 73 veterans, for at least one mental health problem were then engaged in either four sessions of motivational interviewing (MI) or neutral telephone check-in sessions.

MI phone sessions were designed to generate a positive dialogue between a VA counselor and the veteran.

They discussed perceptions of therapy versus actual therapy to dispel any misunderstandings the veteran may have had about mental health treatment.

Dr. Seal said, “Articulating to the counselor how they want to change can motivate someone to make actual behavioral changes, such as engaging in treatment.”

“The counselor then supports the client’s perception that they can actually make these changes.”

The sessions occurred once every two weeks for eight weeks. Assessments were performed at eight and 16 weeks.

Dr. Seal said, “We thought that using the telephone to conduct this intervention would be a really good idea because these veterans are young, they’re busy, they’re in school, they have families and they all carry cell phones.”

Veterans in the MI group were more likely than the control group to pursue mental health treatment, 62 percent vs. 26 percent. The MI group was also more likely to stick with their mental health treatment programs than the control group.

The veterans in the MI group also reported feeling less feelings of stigma towards therapy and less use of marijuana.

Dr. Seal said, “The VA has gone to extraordinary lengths to provide these veterans with state-of-the-art, evidence-based mental health treatment.”

“The irony is that they are not necessarily engaging in this treatment. This study was positioned to try to connect our veterans with the treatments that are available to them.”

Further studies are needed to ensure positive results in the future and the most effective counseling methods.

This study was published in May in General Hospital Psychiatry. The study was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, no conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
August 8, 2012