Clinical implications of basic research| Volume 93, ISSUE 11, P2100-2108, November 2012

Effectiveness of Telephone Counseling in Managing Psychological Outcomes After Spinal Cord Injury: A Preliminary Study


      Dorstyn D, Mathias J, Denson L, Robertson M. Effectiveness of telephone counseling in managing psychological outcomes after spinal cord injury: a preliminary study.


      To determine whether an individualized counseling intervention delivered by telephone—telecounseling—feasibly improves the emotional adjustment of adults with a newly acquired spinal cord injury (SCI).


      Randomized controlled trial.


      Spinal injuries unit of a rehabilitation center.


      Adults (N=40) aged 18 or older, who were recently discharged home from inpatient spinal rehabilitation, were randomly assigned to a telecounseling treatment or standard-care control group. All participants had recently received psychological treatment as inpatients in order to help assist them in adjusting to their disability. Referral to the inpatient psychology service was therefore a key indicator of participants' baseline distress levels and, consequently, their need for counseling support postdischarge.


      Seven telecounseling sessions were delivered over a 12-week period by a single psychologist (D.D.). Pre- and postintervention data, plus a 3-month follow-up assessment, were compared with that of an SCI control group who received standard care.

      Main Outcome Measures

      Psychosocial outcome was measured using the following: Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21; Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview; Spinal Cord Lesion Emotional Wellbeing and Coping Strategies Questionnaires; and the Multidimensional Measure of Social Support. Cost-effectiveness and clinical feasibility were also evaluated.


      Telecounseling participants reported clinical improvements in depression and anxiety and aspects of SCI coping immediately postintervention. However, these treatment gains were not statistically significant. Additionally, treatment effects were minimal at 3-month follow-up. Delivery related outcomes, including participation rate and cost analyses, were all positive.


      The results suggest that continued psychological services for individuals reporting distress during their inpatient rehabilitation is important and that such services can be delivered by telephone cost-effectively and efficiently. However, the long-term benefits of telecounseling, once ceased, were not demonstrated.

      Key Words

      List of Abbreviations:

      ANOVA (analysis of variance), DASS-21 (Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21), DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition), MDSS (Multidimensional Measure of Social Support), MINI (Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview), SCI (spinal cord injury), SCL CSQ (Spinal Cord Lesion Coping Strategies Questionnaire), SCL EWQ (Spinal Cord Lesion Emotional Wellbeing Questionnaire)
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