Study Finds Psychotherapy And Anti-Depressants Equally Effective In Treating Severely Depressed Primary-Care Patients

WASHINGTON - Researchers comparing the effectiveness of treating major depression with either antidepressant medication or psychotherapy noted no difference in the success of the two treatment methods after an eight-month clinical investigation. The research will be published in the December issue of the American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Psychologists Herbert C. Schulberg, Ph.D., Paul A. Pilkonis, Ph.D., and graduate student Patricia Houck, MS, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine examined the relationship between the severity of a primary care patient's major depression, treatment of the episode with either an antidepressant (nortriptyline hydrochloride [NT]) or interpersonal psychotherapy [IPT] and level of depression over an eight-month period. Patients prescribed NT (N=91) were treated in the primary care setting by family practitioners or general internists, while those who received psychotherapy (N=93) were also treated in the primary care setting by a psychiatrist or psychologist. The researchers further divided the treatment groups into those with a lower level of severe depression (N=53) and those with a higher level of severe depression (N=131) based on a clinician-rated measure of depression.

The researchers noted significant clinical improvement by patients who received either antidepressants or psychotherapy. Treatment type was unrelated to rate of clinical improvement in those with a higher level of major depression, since both samples had identical scores on the depression measurement test throughout the eight-month study. There were, however, differences among the two treatment methods among those with less severe depression. Participants who were less severely depressed improved more rapidly when treated with antidepressants than those in psychotherapy, but most improvement among those prescribed NT occurred during the first two months

Contact: David Peikin
American Psychological Association

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