Therapy Shows No Edge Over Psychiatry

What treatments are helpful for depressed adolescents? A study released today gives a surprising answer: not psychotherapy, or at least not the best-defined forms, cognitive-behavioral therapy and brief psychoanalytic therapy. In a trial funded by the British National Institute for Health Research and conducted by researchers from Cambridge and other British universities, neither psychotherapy outperformed nonspecific psychiatric support.

What distinguished this research was its duration. Patients—470 teens in all—were treated for a half year and followed up for an additional year. In the short and long term, psychotherapy offered no additional benefit. The therapies failed across the board, in raters’ reports and patients’ own accounts. The psychotherapies gave no additional symptomatic relief, made no measurable difference in the youngsters’ quality of life, provided no extra protection from suicidal impulses or gestures, and did nothing to improve the odds that a patient would emerge from depression.

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