For some patients with depression, seeing their therapist regularly can be intimidating. Appointments may eventually get rescheduled or even canceled altogether. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, however, has found a more efficient way of conducting therapy. Instead of going to see your therapist, how about simply calling him or her on the phone?

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Researchers gathered 325 people who were reportedly diagnosed with a major depressive disorder and randomly assigned them to 18 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy, which would be conducted either over the phone or in person. Results showed that only 21 percent of the telephone therapy group dropped out, while 33 percent abandoned in-person therapy.

However, researchers point out a more interesting discovery. Before week five, only 4.3 percent of the telephone therapy participants had dropped out compared to the 15 percent from the in-person participants. It appears that telephone therapy is able to sustain more participants for longer as well. According to study author David Mohr, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, patients may be more likely to drop out of in-person therapy early because of "difficulty scheduling appointments, transportation issues, or motivational issues."

In addition, there appears to be no significant difference in the reduction of depression symptoms between both forms of therapy. While participants from the in-person therapy seem to be less depressed six months later, there is not enough improvement to make a clinical difference.

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But although helpful, telephone therapy also has its own downside. For one, therapists won’t be able to read their patients' facial expressions or body language. For another, it lacks behavioral activation--there would be no conscious effort on the patient’s part to actually get out of bed and make the trip over to the therapist’s clinic. Nevertheless, Mohr says, "Telephone therapy is accessible, and it works so well that insurance companies should be paying for this. It may not be a substitute for all face-to-face therapy, but it could be part of the continuum of depression treatment."


(Photo by Michele Boccamazzo via Flickr Creative Commons)

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