Northwestern University researchers have used a long-proven method for treating depression, only in a new way. The treatment, known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), uses conversation to help patients recognize how patterns of thought lead to actions and the control that an individual has over both.
Taking positive control of thought and behavior has proven highly effective in overcoming depression. However, until now, the therapy has always been provided in face-to-face counseling sessions. The study conducted at Northwestern tested the efficacy of providing CBT to patients over the telephone.
The research team compared 150 patients given CBT with personal contact to a second group of 150 patients given the same treatment by phone. Participants in the study received 18 sessions lasting 45 minutes each. Initially, treatment was given twice per week, and then sessions were reduced to one time each week.
The study closed out with two extra CBT sessions provided in the last month. Physician assessments and self-reporting showed equal depression scores at week 18. n other words, the study showed that CBT was equally effective in treating depression whether it was employed in the counselor’s office or over the telephone.
Though the results indicated that treatment was equally effective in both approaches, there were a couple of notable differences. For one thing, patients who engaged in CBT by phone tended to maintain treatment for a longer period of time. This is an important point since a significant number of depressed patients fail to maintain therapy.
In this study, there was a 21 percent dropout rate for those being treated telephonically compared to a 33 percent dropout rate among those being treated in person. This failure to stick with treatment sessions could be attributable to various factors such as cost, difficulty with transportation, scheduling conflicts or other reasons associated with their depression. Increasing treatment compliance could prove highly beneficial in improving treatment outcomes.
However, when measured six months post-treatment, the benefits of CBT measured somewhat stronger for those who has received in-person treatment over those who were given phone-based counsel. Though it is unclear why face-to-face treatment has longer-lasting results, the intangible benefit of having a therapist physically present does seem to exist.
So, in terms of keeping people engaged in treatment, making therapy available over the phone seems to do better than one-on-one counseling. But, when it comes to longevity of treatment benefit, the meeting of patient and counselor seems to be the key.
The idea of delivering health care via telephone has been gaining attention over the past year. Telemedicine, as it is called, was reported on by National Public Radio in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease last year. The Northwestern University study on telephone treatment of depression was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.