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Open Access Research article

Psychotherapy mediated by remote communication technologies: a meta-analytic review

Penny E Bee1*, Peter Bower2, Karina Lovell1, Simon Gilbody3, David Richards3, Linda Gask2 and Pamela Roach1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

2 National Primary Care Research And Development Centre, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

3 Department of Health Sciences, University of York, University Road, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD, UK

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BMC Psychiatry 2008, 8:60  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-8-60

Published: 22 July 2008

Abstract

Background

Access to psychotherapy is limited by psychopathology (e.g. agoraphobia), physical disability, occupational or social constraints and/or residency in under-served areas. For these populations, interventions delivered via remote communication technologies (e.g. telephone, internet) may be more appropriate. However, there are concerns that such delivery may influence the therapeutic relationship and thus reduce therapy effectiveness. This review aimed to determine the clinical effectiveness of remotely communicated, therapist-delivered psychotherapy.

Methods

Systematic review (including electronic database searching and correspondence with authors) of randomised trials of individual remote psychotherapy. Electronic databases searched included MEDLINE (1966–2006), PsycInfo (1967–2006), EMBASE (1980–2006) and CINAHL databases (1982–2006). The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) and the Cochrane Collaboration Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Controlled Trials Register (CCDAN-CTR). All searches were conducted to include studies with a publication date to July 2006.

Results

Thirteen studies were identified, ten assessing psychotherapy by telephone, two by internet and one by videoconference. Pooled effect sizes for remote therapy versus control conditions were 0.44 for depression (95%CI 0.29 to 0.59, 7 comparisons, n = 726) and 1.15 for anxiety-related disorders (95%CI 0.81 to 1.49, 3 comparisons, n = 168). There were few comparisons of remote versus face-to-face psychotherapy.

Conclusion

Remote therapy has the potential to overcome some of the barriers to conventional psychological therapy services. Telephone-based interventions are a particularly popular research focus and as a means of therapeutic communication may confer specific advantages in terms of their widespread availability and ease of operation. However, the available evidence is limited in quantity and quality. More rigorous trials are required to confirm these preliminary estimates of effectiveness. Future research priorities should include overcoming the methodological shortcomings of published work by conducting large-scale trials that incorporate both clinical outcome and more process-orientated measures.