Harvard Mental Health Letter

In brief: Phone psychotherapy for depression

In brief

Phone psychotherapy for depression

Although a clinician and patient usually meet in person during psychotherapy sessions, they can also talk by phone. Now an analysis of 12 studies concludes that although phone psychotherapy may only be half as effective as in-person therapy for treating depression, patients are less likely than those undergoing psychotherapy in a clinician's office to drop out of therapy before it has a chance to work.

Dr. David Mohr, a professor of preventive medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, collaborated with investigators at four other institutions to analyze outcomes of phone psychotherapy in depressed patients. They found that phone psychotherapy significantly reduced symptoms of depression when compared to control conditions, although it was only about half as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy.

Therapy can work only when patients continue long enough to receive the benefit. When the researchers examined attrition rates, they found that patients were less likely to drop out of phone psychotherapy than the in-person version. About 8% of patients dropped out of phone psychotherapy, while a separate analysis found that 47% of patients dropped out of face-to-face psychotherapy.

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