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Depressed? Help Could Be A Phone Call Away

phone therapy

Talking with a therapist on the phone may be more helpful for depressed patients than coming to a therapist's office.

That's the finding of a new Northwestern University medical school study that found that patients with depression who got therapy over the phone were more likely to complete 18 weeks of treatment than those who had face-to-face sessions.

"Now therapists can make house calls," said study author David Mohr, M.D., professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first large trial to compare the benefits of telephone therapy to the traditional visit to the therapist's couch.

The study involved 325 primary care patients with major depressive disorder. Half received face-to-face therapy and half got telephone therapy. More of the in-person group -- 53 patients -- dropped out compared to 34 patients in the telephone-based group, Reuters reported.

Patients in both therapy groups showed equal improvement in their depression when treatment ended. However, six months later, that improvement had decreased slightly more with the phone group than with the in-person group -- a result researchers downplayed in significance compared to the positive outcome of having more patients stick with therapy.

Phone therapy has been growing in popularity among therapists. An estimated 85 percent of psychologists offer it to help patients who find it difficult to come to the office because of transportation, time or other challenges.

By showing that phone therapy can be effective, Mohr hopes the study will encourage insurance providers, including Medicare, to cover telephone therapy sessions, which many companies currently don't cover.

"Many people can't get to a therapist's office, but they want to talk to someone,"  Mohr said. Telephone therapy would be particularly helpful for disabled people or those who live where care is unavailable, such as in rural areas, he noted.

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