Therapy Via Phone or Internet is Effective for Depression
> 3/23/2007 10:59:58 AM

New research reveals that non-traditional forms of treatment occurring over the phone can be very beneficial for patients suffering from depression who are beginning a medical regimen but either cannot or choose not to undergo in-person therapy. The basic concept of phone therapy is hardly new, as hotlines designed to help those considering suicide or suffering from assorted psychological stresses have been employed for years, but it is still a relatively uncommon in clinical practice. The expanding powers of the internet also offer an entirely new angle on therapy.

A study undertaken at Seattle's Center for Health Studies tracked the progress of nearly four hundred subjects for a period of eighteen months after they each began taking anti-depressants as prescribed by a general care provider. Half were then enrolled in a phone therapy program consisting of approximately one session each month. While a majority of patients (63%) reported that their depressive symptoms were "much" or "very much" improved after the 18-month period, the numbers ran considerably higher (77%) among those undergoing phone therapy. Continuity is one of the most important aspects of treatment for depression, and patients  also reported that the noticeable benefits of the therapy sessions stayed with them in the six months after the program ended altogether.
These reports are very relevant to several classes of patients: those with physical conditions that make visiting a therapist's office difficult, those who recognize their depression but remain reluctant to begin the therapy because of related stigma and personal shame or an acute sense of privacy, and those who live in underserved areas where licensed therapists are relatively uncommon. Patients seeking experts in a specific field may also find the process much easier online, where specialists from around the country and world could potentially put their crucial knowledge to use (if only in order to recommend local doctors and methods of treatment).

In its most extreme forms, depression can render its victims virtually immobile and stubbornly resistant to interventions or programs designed for their own benefit. Some patients find therapy easier to endure when the therapist is present only as a disembodied voice on a phone, feeling more secure in discussing very personal problems when the procedure is slightly more anonymous. Of course, many who gain from regular psychotherapy find its primary appeal in the personal, visual reassurance and receptive ear provided by face-to-face therapy. But the therapy experience is different for every patient, and all should seek the most effective combination of method and medicine knowing that many options exist. The even newer concept of therapy via webcam can further bridge the gap between doctor and patient without requiring the two to be present in the same room.

The ease of these online therapeutic measures may lower the costs for patients while allowing doctors to counsel more individuals within the same limited blocks of time. Some find uncertainty in new technologies, and the possibility of amateurs advertising their services online may be frightening. Most individuals performing therapy via phone or computer are legitimate licensed therapists, but patients should still make sure that this is the case before choosing a particular provider.

Perhaps the most obvious disadvantage of alternate therapies is the fact that our voices are only one of the methods we use to communicate. Body language can be just as crucial to therapy as it is to intimate conversation, and the patient or therapist may theoretically miss subtle cues when unable to view the motions of the other party. On the other hand, such a situation may require both to listen more carefully to chosen words and their inflections. The fact is that we stand at the cusp of a new age for therapists and their patients. While mental illness will always be an inevitable aspect of our lives, evolving technologies and more flexible methods will render future therapies more efficient and easier to access for people around the world.

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