Psychotherapy's Effectiveness in Treating Depression May Be Overstated, Study Suggests

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, October 2, 2015 | Go to article overview

Psychotherapy's Effectiveness in Treating Depression May Be Overstated, Study Suggests


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Talk therapy for the treatment of depression may not be as effective as the published research literature currently suggests, according to the authors of a study that appears this week in the journal PLoS ONE.

A few years ago, a team of researchers -- led by one of the authors of the new study -- made a similar finding regarding antidepressant drugs.

The reason for the overestimations of the benefits of both treatment approaches is a phenomenon known as publication bias. It's the tendency of researchers to be more likely to submit -- and medical journals to accept -- manuscripts for publication when the study has strong, positive outcomes rather than weak or negative ones.

Publication bias results in published studies presenting a more favorable view of a treatment than is actually the case.

"This doesn't mean that psychotherapy doesn't work," said Steven Hollon, one of the authors of the study and a psychologist at Vanderbilt University, in a released statement. "Psychotherapy does work. It just doesn't work as well as you would think from reading the scientific literature."

Depression is one of the most common and disabling illnesses in the United States, affecting about 8 percent of people aged 12 or older during any two-week period, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention. About 8 million Americans seek some sort of medical care for depression each year.

Study details

For the study, Hollon and his colleagues reviewed 55 grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund clinical trials of psychological treatments for depression between 1972 and 2008. The results of 13 of those studies had not been published.

They then contacted the researchers who had conducted the unpublished studies and asked for their results. …

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