, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 17-37

Comparative efficacy of cognitive therapy and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of depressed outpatients

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Abstract

Forty-one unipolar depressed outpatients were randomly assigned to individual treatment with either cognitive therapy (N =19)or imipramine (N =22).As a group, the patients had been intermittently or chronically depressed with a mean period of 8.8 years since the onset of their first episode of depression, and 75%were suicidal. For the cognitive therapy patients, the treatment protocol specified a maximum of 20 interviews over a period of 12 weeks. The pharmacotherapy patients received up to 250 mg/day of imipramine for a maximum of 12 weeks. Patients who completed cognitive therapy averaged 10.90 weeks in treatment; those in pharmacotherapy averaged 10.86 weeks. Both treatment groups showed statistically significant decreases in depressive symptomatology. Cognitive therapy resulted in significantly greater improvement than did pharmacotherapy on both a self-administered measure of depression (Beck Depression Inventory)and clinical ratings (Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression and Raskin Scale).Moreover, 78.9%of the patients in cognitive therapy showed marked improvement or complete remission of symptoms as compared to 22.7%of the pharmacotherapy patients. In addition, both treatment groups showed substantial decrease in anxiety ratings. The dropout rate was significantly higher with pharmacotherapy (8 Ss)than with cognitive therapy (1 S).Even when these dropouts were excluded from data analysis, the cognitive therapy patients showed a significantly greater improvement than the pharmacotherapy patients. Follow-up contacts at three and six months indicate that treatment gains evident at termination were maintained over time. Moreover, while 68%of the pharmacotherapy group re-entered treatment for depression, only 16%of the psychotherapy patients did so.

This study and preparation of this paper were supported by the following: NIMH Grant MH-19989-06, a grant from the National Association of Mental Health, and NIMH Grant MH-27759-01.