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Study: Phone Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works as Well as In-Person Therapy

After sifting through the data from a huge study, English researchers say phone-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works as well as in person therapy for people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety.

Fast acting cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a proven effective intervention for people suffering from depression and anxiety.

But though it works well, therapy sessions can be expensive, people in rural areas may find it hard to find a trained practitioner and people with mobility impairments may have difficulty traveling to an office for therapy sessions.

Given these barriers to access, researchers in England wondered if CBT sessions over the phone might be a reasonable, and cheaper, alternative to face to face therapy sessions.

The Experiment

To find out, researchers looked at a naturalistic population sample of over 39 000 people in England who had been referred to get depression or anxiety treatment. Subjects from this sample pool were assessed and then randomly assigned to receive either in-person CBT or CBT delivered over the phone.

Before each CBT session, subjects were asked to fill out a questionnaire rating their anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Neither the therapists nor the subjects knew of their participation in a research study.

The Results

  • Both phone based CBT and in-person CBT helped subjects improve their social functioning and decreased their symptoms of anxiety and or depression.
  • Although in-person CBT proved more effective for people with severe symptoms, people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety did equally well in both treatment groups.


Commenting on the implications of their research, the study authors note, “For most, CBT delivered over-the-telephone is a cost-effective and probably convenient option...In a global context, the potential is enormous for spreading access to effective psychological therapies to the millions of people affected by depression and anxiety. As the availability of mobile phone technology in low and middle income countries grows, people now have the potential of having a therapist in their pocket, transcending traditional barriers to the receipt of effective treatments.”

Read the full study results in PlOSOne

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