Cognitive therapy to treat moderate to severe depression is just as effective as antidepressants, according to a study published in Archives of General Psychiatry.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt University, doesn’t support the American Psychiatric Association guidelines that antidepressant medications are the only effective treatment for moderately to severely depressed patients.
In addiction, the researchers demonstrated that cognitive therapy was more effective than medication at preventing relapses after the end of treatment.
The study involved 240 depressed patients.
The patients were randomly placed into groups that received cognitive therapy, antidepressant medication or a placebo.
Patients in the cognitive therapy group attended 50-minute sessions twice weekly for the first four weeks, once or twice weekly for the middle eight weeks, and then once weekly for the final four weeks.
Patients in the antidepressant group 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 may have blunted the appearance of depression but did not affect underlying disease processes.
" Medication is often an appropriate treatment, but drugs have drawbacks, such as side effects or a diminished efficacy over time, " DeRubeis said.
" Patients with depression are often overwhelmed by other factors in their life that pills simply cannot solve.
In many cases, cognitive therapy succeeds because it teaches the skills that help people cope. "
Cognitive therapy is not for everyone, and its success could depend on variables such as the expertise of the therapist and the patient's willingness.
This study has shown cognitive therapy to be a viable alternative to antidepressants.
Source: University of Pennsylvania, 2005