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Depression Therapy by Phone May Work

Lasting Improvement Seen in 18-Month Study
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 22, 2007 -- Getting depression therapy by phone may have lasting benefits, a new study shows.

The study included 393 moderately depressed adults who had just started taking antidepressants.

Participants who got 10-12 phone therapy sessions over a year, in addition to standard depression care, showed a greater improvement in depression symptoms than those who only got standard depression care with no phone therapy.

Those benefits lasted at least six months after the last phone therapy session.

The findings appear in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Depression Therapy Study's Details

The study included depression patients enrolled in Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle-area health maintenance organization (HMO). They were about 44 years old, on average; most were white women.

The patients were split into two groups. One group got depression therapy by phone for a year, in addition to standard depression treatment. The other group got standard depression care without phone therapy.

Patients in the phone therapy group got 10-12 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy over the course of a year from specially trained counselors with master's degrees in psychology.

The patients and counselors never met in person. The counselors called the patients to set up the phone therapy appointments. Patients in both groups were allowed to get in-person counseling, but few did so.

Depression Therapy Phone Sessions

The phone therapy sessions were designed to help patients defuse negative thoughts, cultivate pleasant and rewarding activities, and manage their depression symptoms.

The researchers -- who work for Group Health Cooperative -- interviewed all patients in both groups periodically over a year and a half to gauge their depression symptoms.

The follow-up period ended six months after the phone therapy sessions ended. Even so, patients in the phone therapy group reported a greater improvement in their depression symptoms, compared with those in the standard care group, at the end of the follow-up period.

Those findings follow an earlier report from the researchers showing greater short-term improvement in depression symptoms with phone therapy.

Benefits Lasted After Therapy Ended

"We were surprised at how well the positive effects were maintained over time," researcher Everette Ludman, PhD, says in a Group Health Cooperative news release.

Ludman is a senior research associate with the Group Health Center for Health Studies.

Patients in the phone therapy group were more likely to take their antidepressants. But that didn't completely explain the benefits seen in the phone therapy group, note the researchers.

The study doesn't show what aspects of the phone therapy sessions were most helpful.

Ludman and colleagues aren't suggesting phone therapy as a substitute for other depression treatment.

But the researchers say adding phone therapy to depression treatment could help some patients, especially since many patients don’t get in-person counseling.

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