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Cognitive therapy as potent as antidepressants: study

Earthtimes | April 6, 2005
By Steve Walters

Cognitive therapy can help as much as antidepressants in alleviating initial chronic depression and provide longer lasting effects, a study has found.

The study by University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt University researchers raises doubts about the guidelines by American Psychiatric Association, which stipulate that antidepressant medicines are required to treat moderate to severe depression.

“On the whole, these findings do not support the current American Psychiatric Association guidelines, based on the Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program (TDCRP), that most patients require medication,” the report said, while adding that cognitive therapy could be as ‘effective as medications, even among more severely depressed outpatients, at least when provided by experienced cognitive therapists’.

In a study of 240 patients suffering from moderate to severe depression, researchers divided these patients into three groups. While 60 of them were administered cognitive therapy, 120 received antidepressant medication, and 60 others were given a placebo.

After being given the treatment for eight weeks, researchers found that 50 per cent of those who were given medication responded positively as against 43 per cent of those in the cognitive therapy group. The response in the placebo group was about 25 per cent. Sixteen weeks into the treatment, response rates of those in the cognitive therapy and the medication group were on par at 58 per cent. While those receiving medication showed a remission rate of 46 per cent, only 40 per cent of those who underwent cognitive therapy lapsed back into depression.

Said Penn’s Department of Psychology’s Robert DeRubeis, who authored the study, “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.” He added that ‘pharmaceuticals, though effective, offer no long-term cure for the symptoms of depression’. According to DeRubeis, for many patients, cognitive therapy offers a better form of treatment.

However, the effectiveness of cognitive therapy depends entirely on the experience and expertise of the therapists administering it. The findings of the study have been published in the latest issue of Archives of General Psychiatry .

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