Sure, therapy's good for you, but having to schlep across town to sit in a cold office, wonder what the pattern in the wall hanging is supposed to be, and wish the shrink would stop looking at the clock might be a deterrent to some people with depression. For this study, researchers tried therapy over the phone.
What the researchers wanted to know: Do people with new prescriptions for antidepressants do better if they also get psychotherapy over the phone?
What they did: The participants were 600 depressed patients in the Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle-area health plan. All were just starting antidepressants, and none were already in therapy. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group just got antidepressants (although a few of them visited therapists, too); the second had telephone management, in which case managers called regularly to check up on them and tell them to take their meds, then reported their progress to the patient's doctor; the third group had case management like that in the second group, plus eight psychotherapy sessions over the phone.
What they found: The patients who got telephone psychotherapy improved more than the patients who only got care management over the phoneand they all did better than the patients who got standard care. Patients who got phone therapy or care management were happier with their treatment than the standard-care patients, too.
What the study means to you: Telephone therapy could be particularly useful for patients who are easily embarrassed or live in rural areas.
Caveats: The researchers didn't compare telephone psychotherapy with in-person psychotherapy.
Find out more: The study was conducted by researchers at the Group Health Cooperative's Center for Health Studies.
The therapists in this study used cognitive-behavioral therapy, explained here by the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists (and they should know).
Read the article: Simon, G.E., Ludman, E.J., Tutty, S., Operskalski, B., and M. Von Korff. "Telephone Psychotherapy and Telephone Care Management for Primary Care Patients Starting Antidepressant Treatment: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Journal of the American Medical Association. Aug. 25, 2004, Vol. 292, No. 8, pp. 935942.
Abstract online: http://jama.ama-assn.org