Upfront

Talking to a therapist on the phone might achieve the same — or even better — results than face-to-face therapy, according to University of Cambridge researchers.

The study compared the outcomes of more than 39,000 British adults who had mild and moderate depression and anxiety disorders and were treated through England's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies program, a national initiative aimed at increasing people's access to low-intensity, non-medical therapies.

The study found that, except among the participants with the most severe symptoms, those who received cognitive behavioral-based therapies via phone benefited as much if not more than their counterparts who received in-person therapy. The study also found that telephone therapy was 36 percent less expensive per session than traditional therapy.

The findings, published in the September 2012 issue of PLOS ONE, support a mode of therapy that's often more accessible to underserved populations, such as those in rural areas or in minority groups, says Peter Jones, PhD, of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

The study comes as APA is reviewing guidelines for the practice of telepsychology, a set of recommendations drafted with the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards and the APA Insurance Trust. The guidelines highlight such areas as how to protect and inform patients about the increased risk to confidentiality, what to do in an emergency situation and how to provide telehealth services across jurisdictions. The guidelines are expected to be finalized late this year.

"Telepsychology provides lots of avenues and venues to be able to make it easier and effective for our clients to obtain psychological services, so I think it's incumbent for us as psychologists to consider how we can adapt it to the services we provide — and to adapt it appropriately," says APA's staff member assigned to the task force, Ronald S. Palomares, PhD, assistant executive director in APA's Practice Directorate.

—Anna Miller