Cuijpers, P., Quero, S., Noma, H., Ciharova, M., Miguel, C., Karyotaki, E., Cipriani, A., Cristea, I.A., Furukawa, T.O. (2021). Psychotherapies for depression: A network meta-analysis covering efficacy, acceptability and long-term outcomes of all main treatment types. World Psychiatry, 20, 283-293.
Depressive disorders are common, and they have an important negative impact on quality of life and on mortality. For that reason, the treatment of depression is critical. The most commonly tested psychotherapy is CBT but others like interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), psychodynamic therapy (PDT), and behavioral activation (BA) have also been tested. In this network meta analysis, Cuijpers and colleagues simultaneously test the effects of different psychotherapies for depression. Network meta-analysis, fundamentally, works by the transitivity assumption: if treatment A = treatment B, and treatment B = treatment C, then treatment A = treatment C even if Treatments A and C were never tested against each other in the same study. This procedure is not without controversy: what if the studies of treatment A vs B are all higher quality (thus resulting in lower effects) than studies of treatments B vs C? Is it fair to equate the studies by comparing treatments A and C when we know study quality impacts effect sizes? Nevertheless, network meta-analyses are used by some to aggregate many studies and to estimate relative outcomes across treatment types. Cuijpers included 331 studies (representing over 34,000 patients) in their network meta-analysis. CBT was tested in over 63% of trials, but other therapies (PDT, IPT, BA) were tested as well. All psychotherapies were more efficacious than care-as-usual and wait list controls with almost no significant differences between therapies for treating depression, except non-directive therapy was less efficacious than other therapies. (Non-directive therapy was often treated as a placebo control condition in studies, and so it may have been delivered in a way that limited its efficacy). CBT, IPT, PDT and BA all were more efficacious than care as usual at 12 months follow up.
Overall, this network meta-analysis of psychotherapies for depression echoes the findings of many meta-analyses that preceded it. All psychotherapies that were examined, except for non-directive therapy, were equally efficacious for treating depression. When initiating therapy, it may be more important for therapists to be responsive to patient characteristics than to focus on which brand of therapy to deliver. For example, patients with internalizing coping styles may do better with insight oriented therapies, those with high levels of resistance/reactance may require a therapist that is less directive, and patients from marginalized race and ethnic communities may do better with a therapist who is multiculturally competent.