June 6 Patients with depression are more likely
to stick with talk therapy when it's given over the phone,
compared to traditional face-to-face settings, according to a
But while people may not drop out of therapy as much, such
treatment in a traditional setting may still be slightly more
helpful, according to findings published in the Journal of the
American Medical Association.
David Mohr, the lead author of the study and a professor at
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that
many people want therapy as part of their depression treatment
but may have trouble actually getting it.
"One of the things we've found over the years is that it's
very difficult for people with depression to access
psychotherapy," he said.
In addition to the expense if health insurance doesn't cover
it, therapy requires a time commitment - sometimes an hour or
more per week for months - that is a challenge for people to
To see whether having therapy sessions by phone made it
easier for people to stick with their treatment plan, Mohr and
his colleagues asked 325 people with depression to undergo 18
weeks of treatment.
Half the patients received therapy over the phone, and the
other half in person.
More people dropped out of the face-to-face therapy, 53
people, than those in the telephone-based group, which lost 34.
By the end of the study, patients in both groups felt some
relief from their depression. But six months after the study
ended, the patients who met their therapists in-person felt less
depressed than those who had their sessions over the phone.
"This is very encouraging and suggests that the telephone
can be an effective medium to communicate with clients during
(cognitive behavior therapy)," said Stefan Hofmann, a psychology
professor at Boston University, who was not part of the study.
"Apparently there is an advantage of doing therapy
face-to-face, but the reason is not clear," he added.
Mohr's team found that the in-person group scored about
three points lower on a 52-point scale of depression.
He said he suspected that the difference between the groups
wasn't because in-person therapy works better, but because the
more difficult-to-treat patients were more likely to drop out of
the in-person group. The telephone-based groups, by contrast,
included patients with depression that was harder to treat and
who stayed with the therapy.
Hofmann said that perhaps patients could benefit from a
combination, starting with telephone-based sessions and
following up with face-to-face sessions.
"This strategy might lead to lower attrition (than)
face-to-face But greater efficacy than (telephone-based
cognitive behavioral therapy) over the long-term," he said.
(Reporting from New York by Kerry Grens at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies and Bob Tourtellotte)