April 1996

The Role of Psychotherapy in the Treatment of DepressionReview of Two Practice Guidelines

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, University of California at San Francisco, and Center for Cognitive Therapy, Oakland, Calif (Dr Persons); Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pa (Dr Thase); and Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (Dr Crits-Christoph).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1996;53(4):283-290. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830040013003

We review two recent practice guidelines' assessments of the role of psychotherapy in the treatment of major depression in adults. We examine the practice guideline published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and that published by the Depression Guideline Panel of the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research. We focus on the guidelines' evaluations of psychotherapies, their statements about the role of psychotherapy in first-line treatment of depression, and the procedures they recommend for choosing among psychotherapies. We argue that the APA guideline understates the value of cognitive, behavioral, brief psychodynamic, and group therapies. Both guidelines understate the value of psychotherapy alone in the treatment of more severely depressed outpatients. The APA guideline overvalues the role of combined psychotherapy-pharmacotherapy regimens, particularly in view of the greater cost of this strategy. The APA guideline also makes recommendations about choosing among psychotherapies that are not well supported by empirical evidence. We conclude with some guidelines for guideline development.