Filed Under:  Health & Wellness

Medical Literature has overstated advantages of talk therapy for depression

Contributed by on October 2, 2015 at 1:10 am

“The efficacy of psychological interventions for depression has been overestimated in the published literature, just as it has been for pharmacotherapy”, the researchers wrote in their study.

While the team found that psychotherapy was effective for treating depression, reviewing both the unpublished and published studies together resulted in a 25% fall in the efficacy of the treatment, suggesting psychotherapy may not be as beneficial as previously claimed.

Hollon and colleagues searched National Institutes of Health (NIH) databases to identify all randomized clinical trials that had received grants from the NIH and had tested the effects of psychotherapy against depression between 1972 and 2008. “Depression is a tough disorder to treat, and it’s very hard also to judge treatments because the symptoms of the depression naturally wax and wane - it’s a moving target”, said the researchers. This leaves talk therapy with a modest 20-percent chance of making you feel better.

A somewhat alarming new study says that the benefits of talk therapy with depression patients may have been grossly overstated.

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“It’s like flipping a bunch of coins and only keeping the ones that come up heads”, Hollon says.

“Antidepressant medication is recommended as a first-line treatment for major depressive disorder in most treatment guidelines and the majority of depressed patients are now so treated in primary care”.

Citing PLOS ONE itself, an open access journal that is “committed to publishing study results without regard to their strength and direction”, as an example of how the culture around publishing negative studies is slowly changing, the authors nonetheless believe that there need to be more proactive steps taken to ensure that fellow scientists and the public are provided the clearest, un-rosy, picture of scientific research. Studies with less favorable results have a harder time winning support.

So Turner was happy to join Hollon and other researchers interested in finding out whether the psychotherapy research had the same bias as drug research. Only two studies were ever put up for peer review though ultimately rejected (the researchers of three studies expressed a wish to someday publish their work).

They found that findings of the unpublished but perfectly valid studies weighed down those of the rest of the studies suggesting that while psychological treatment indeed works, publication bias has inflated its effectiveness.

Turner believes that the new findings could help reverse an unfortunate side effect of the 2008 analysis of depression drugs.


Scientific literature overstates psychotherapy’s effectiveness in treating