SEVERE DEPRESSION: Psychotherapy v. Drugs Debate Revived
A "major" new study of 169 severely depressed participants in four previously conducted trials suggests that a "specific type of psychotherapy," namely cognitive behavioral therapy, may be as effective as medication in treating severe depression. The analysis, published in this week's American Journal of Psychiatry, is "sure to stimulate the debate about which is better," USA Today reports. A group of University of Pennsylvania researchers found that patients "from one of the four studies fared better on medicine, but those from two others did better with therapy. Those in the fourth group did about equally well with either kind of treatment." The study's lead author, psychologist Robert DeRubeis, concluded that "antidepressant medication should not be considered ... superior to cognitive therapy" unless future studies prove otherwise. While severely depressed patients typically receive antidepressants, partly due to insurers' preference for pills rather than expensive psychotherapy, the pills can cause blurred vision as well as sexual dysfunction. DeRubeis also cautioned that the psychotherapists who participated in the trial may have offered superior psychotherapy skills. But David Antonuccio, psychologist and researcher at the University of Nevada, said the study "goes against the widely held belief that the severely depressed need antidepressants -- that that is the only thing that will help them. This is the first quantitative analysis I've seen that puts the numbers together from four big studies" (Peterson, 6/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.