Phone therapy is helping doctors and patients tackle depression. Phoning it in may be the latest breakthrough in treating clinical depression. A study by Northwester Medicine in Chicago found that phone therapy is not only as effective as regular office visits, it is also easier for patients to continue therapy.
"Reductions of depression are identical, whether you use face-to-face therapy or phone therapy. And drop-out is reduced," said Dr. David Mohr, lead study author and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
This could be a new breakthrough in long term depression treatment. By using the phone rather than a face to face chat, patients can eliminate barriers to treatment. "They don't have a baby sitter or transportation. They can't get off work, or they're just not feeling up to leaving home," none of these will be a factor in treatment anymore Mohr said. "Especially in rural areas, getting to the therapist's office can be difficult."
While it is not necessarily a replacement for face to face therapy, Mohr said phone sessions can be very effective. His research shows therapy calls are effective not just in treating depression, but also anxiety disorders. He believes some people even respond better having some physical distance between them and their therapist.
"In fact, the physical distance may be what they prefer," he said. "But the study does not translate for people with psychotic disorders, when the therapist should see the patient's behaviour." Phone therapy is also ineffective for anyone who cannot find a quiet and secluded place to talk.
Many therapists are already putting phone therapy to good use. In a study by the American Psychological Association, they found 85% of licensed psychologists have already used some form of phone therapy. Unfortunately, Mohr said its wider use may be tempered by the fact that some insurance companies refuse to cover this form of treatment.
"We hope this study will encourage more of them [insurance companies] to consider it," he said. "Untreated, depression costs them more in the long run because it can lead to other health problems including eating disorders, alcohol abuse and greater cardiovascular risk."
With more than 9% of adults dealing with depression and 4.1% struggling with major depression, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is important to explore every avenue of treatment. By removing barriers and excuses, phone therapy is making the lives of both doctors and patients easier.