Could Phone Therapy Work for Depression?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), also called talk therapy, effectively relieves symptoms of depression for many people. In fact, there's a lot of evidence that the combination of antidepressants and short-term therapy is more effective in treating depression than medication alone.

Unfortunately, many depressed individuals don't have easy access to therapy. Many are disabled or elderly, live in rural areas with few mental health services, don't speak English, or are afraid to leave home. However, there is good news for these patients: a new study shows that CBT by phone seems to provide the same therapeutic benefits.

In the study, 600 patients with depression received eight sessions of structured CBT (with up to four additional reinforcement calls) with a trained therapist starting at the same time they began taking antidepressants. This treatment provided significant relief from depressive symptoms. Two years later, the positive benefits persisted. Phone therapy showed so much promise for treating depression, in fact, the National Institute of Mental Health is currently running a clinical trial comparing the effectiveness of telephone versus face-to-face CBT for depression and other mental health disorders.

These results mirror those found in studies using online CBT to treat depression in which patients exchange instant messages with a trained, online therapist for 55-minute sessions. Researchers found positive gains particularly in patients who were more severely depressed at the start of treatment. Telephone and online therapy are also effective treating patients with panic disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Filling a Much Needed Gap

Studies show that about two-thirds of patients with depression say they prefer psychotherapy or counseling over antidepressants; however, the use of drugs to treat depression is on the rise, while the incidence of in-person psychotherapy is declining. Many people suffering from depression do not seek help. Only one out of five patients referred to psychotherapy actually initiates it and half drop out before they finish treatment.

Depression causes people to see events and situations in a distorted way that produces negative feelings. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps them think differently about the things that are associated with their depression. Patients learn to understand what factors influence their positive and negative feelings and how to challenge negative thoughts. They also learn effective problem-solving skills. Unlike traditional therapy, CBT is a short-term treatment.

Successfully treating depression greatly improves patients' lives and functioning. And, since depression often goes hand in hand with other mental and physical health problems, relieving depression also reduces patients' overall medical needs and healthcare costs.


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