Either form of treatment worked significantly better than a placebo, but the researchers demonstrated that cognitive therapy was more effective than medication at preventing relapses after the end of treatment.
"We believe that cognitive therapy might have more lasting effects because it equips patients with the tools they need to learn how to manage their problems and emotions," said Robert DeRubeis, professor and chair of Penn's Department of Psychology. "Pharmaceuticals, while effective, offer no long term cure for the symptoms of depression. For many people, cognitive therapy might prove to be the preferred form of treatment."
The study, which follows years of debate on the relative merits of cognitive therapy versus medication for more severe forms of depression, is the largest trial yet undertaken on the topic; it involved 240 depressed patients. The patients were randomly placed into groups that received cognitive therapy, antidepressant medication or a placebo. Patients in the antidepressant group, which was twice as large as the other two, were treated with paroxetine (Paxil). Lithium or desipramine was also given, as necessary.
After 16 weeks of treatment, patients in both the medication and cognitive therapy groups showed improvement at about the same rate; however, cognitive therapy patients were less likely to relapse in the two years following the end of treatment. According to the researchers, the return of symptoms might demonstrate that the medication
Contact: Greg Lester
University of Pennsylvania