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Therapy over the phone works as well as face to face

Cognitive therapy is just as effective over the phone as in face-to-face sessions, a new study has found.
By David McNamee

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

senior woman talking on cell phone

Previous research has shown that a ‘talking treatment’ called cognitive therapy can be as effective as antidepressants in treating people with depression and anxiety. The treatment is based on the idea that depression and anxiety can be caused by having negative thoughts about yourself and about life. In cognitive therapy, if you have depression or anxiety, you discuss your problems with a therapist and learn how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Anxiety and mild to moderate depression are the most common mental health problems that affect people. Waiting lists for cognitive therapy to treat these problems can be long, and patients may not always be able to attend sessions. This treatment is also costly for the NHS to provide. The researchers wanted to find out if telephone-based cognitive therapy would provide a cheaper, more easily accessible alternative that worked just as well.

What does the new study say?

The researchers analysed questionnaires that people were required to fill in as part of their therapy. The questionnaires, which measured the severity of depression and anxiety symptoms, were provided to people at each session with their therapist.

The researchers found that the treatment was just as effective over the phone as in person for mild to moderate depression or anxiety, but that it didn’t help as much for people with very severe symptoms.

How reliable is the research?

This was a big study, which looked at 39,227 adults referred to psychological services for anxiety and depression. The therapists and patients were not aware that the study was taking place. This meant that the answers they gave were not affected by knowing that they were part of a study.

The people in the study were drawn from several regions across England. However, the study doesn’t take into account differences in the way healthcare professionals may have diagnosed people across the regions.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research & Care, with NHS Midlands & East, and the findings were published in the medical journal PLoS ONE.

What does this mean for me?

If you have mild to moderate anxiety or depression and you are considering a course of cognitive therapy as part of your treatment, you may want to consider which is more useful to your situation: a face-to-face appointment or a telephone conversation with a therapist. If you have work commitments or a physical disability, or transport problems with getting to therapy sessions, you may want to discuss with your health service whether sessions over the phone may be more appropriate for you.

Published on October 01, 2012

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