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Phone therapy: It gives depressed a lift

First-time antidepressant users might want to consider Ma Bell for therapy.

Depressed patients who received telephone therapy in addition to antidepressant medication were found to be less depressed after 18 months than those who received antidepressants alone, according to a report to be published in next month's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

The study of 393 patients enrolled with Group Health, a Seattle-based HMO, follows up on a 2004 report on the same patients that examined moods six months after therapy. At 18 months, 77 percent of those receiving telephone therapy (10 to 12 cognitive behavior sessions lasting 30 to 45 minutes over a one year period) reported that their depression was either "much" or "very much" improved, compared with 63 percent of those receiving antidepressants alone.

Lead author Evette Ludman, a clinical psychologist with Group Health, says that phone therapy is a particularly valuable tool for the depressed patient. "The nature of depression is you avoid situations that can actually improve your mood," she says — including seeing a therapist. She says the biggest challenge was tracking down reticent, depressed subjects.

"We kept calling until people would talk with us," she says. "Even patients who didn't return our phone calls later told us, 'It meant a lot to me that you kept calling.' "