The effectiveness of psychotherapy in treating depressive disorders in primary care practice: Clinical and cost perspectives
Mental Health Services
This paper reviews the clinical and cost effectiveness of psychotherapy for treating major and minor depression in primary care practice. Conclusions drawn from psychotherapy studies completed prior to 1995 were constrained by methodological deficiencies such as ambiguity regarding patient diagnostic status, use of non-specific psychotherapies, and lack of treatment manuals. More recent studies have addressed these flaws by shifting from efficacy to effectiveness designs, using standard diagnostic assessment procedures and appropriate follow-up time periods, using empirically evaluated treatment manuals, and selecting appropriate comparison conditions. Twelve primary care studies meeting these design criteria were analyzed, and the following conclusions were drawn: When used to treat major depression, a depression-specific psychotherapy produces better clinical outcomes than a primary care physician's usual care and outcomes similar to those produced by pharmacotherapy. When used to treat minor depression or dysthymia, the effectiveness of psychotherapy in comparison to usual care remains more equivocal. A review of the sparse data on cost effectiveness suggests that while psychotherapy has a higher fiscal cost than a physician's usual care, psychotherapy's higher value in treating patients with major depression may justify its use.