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Phone Psychotherapy: Fewer Hang-ups?

Telephone Psychotherapy as Effective as Face-to-Face Sessions, Study Shows
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By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 23, 2008 -- Hold for your therapist. ...

Patients who receive psychotherapy over the phone -- an increasingly common practice -- may be less likely to drop out of treatment than patients who attend face-to-face sessions, according to a new analysis of existing studies about telephone psychotherapy.

The average attrition rate was 7.6% for phone patients vs. another study's finding of 46.9% for traditional psychotherapy. Also, phone therapy seems to be just as effective as traditional therapy at reducing patients' depressive symptoms, according to the study, published in Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice.

Authors analyzed 12 studies about telephone psychotherapy for adults, all focused on therapy that was conducted exclusively over the phone, that included at least four sessions and that had a clearly defined treatment approach.

"The problem with face-to-face treatment has always been very few people who can benefit from it actually receive it because of emotional and structural barriers," David Mohr, PhD, professor of preventive medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and lead author of the study, says in a statement.

There can be logistical challenges such as getting transportation to appointments or taking time off of work, as well as emotional challenges.

"One of the symptoms of depression is people lose motivation. It's hard for them to do the things they are supposed to do. Showing up for appointments is one of those things," Mohr says.

The researchers emphasize that it is too early to generalize their findings too broadly. Mohr says more original research is needed, including a definitive study with a randomly selected population of patients that directly compares therapy delivered face-to-face to phone therapy.

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