Video-telephones offer new hope for people in remote areas who suffer from emotional or psychological illnesses, psychologists say.

Researchers in Aberdeen have found that patients can be hypnotised over a video-telephone link to treat potentially severe problems such as eating disorders, insomnia or agoraphobia. The new technique, which will be unveiled this week at a Royal Society of Medicine conference on telemedicine, has far-reaching implications.

Video-telephone links, or internet-based video links using webcams, could soon be used to counsel and treat depressed people in isolated rural communities, or scientists working in Antarctica. In trials last year, 11 patients in the Shetlands were successfully treated for severe under-eating, fear of flying, hypochondria and addiction to smoking, all by psychologists more than 200 miles away in the Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen.

Dr Susan Simpson, who pioneered the treatment, said patients needed only to hear their therapist's voice. The video link gave them reassurance, but was of greater benefit to the doctor.

"It is designed to relax patients into a very deep state," Dr Simpson said. "Our clients were significantly more confident in dealing with their problems, and dealing with them in a different way."

The treatment, which is being extended to rural communities across northern and north-eastern Scotland, can also help the NHS. It gives patients regular access to specialist therapists who are in demand and saves the NHS travel and hotel bills.

The only serious problem foreseen by researchers is that the high-speed phone links or video and computer equipment could break down.

In a further development of modern technologies, another team of psychologists in Aberdeen has introduced counselling of depressed oil rig workers by using email "chat" services. Oil rigs rarely have private facilities for video sessions, leaving email as the most secure route for counselling.