Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: Starting in March 2013 I will review one chapter a month the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change in addition to reviewing psychotherapy research articles. Book chapters have more restrictive copy right rules than journal articles, so I will not provide author email addresses for these chapters. If you are interested, the Handbook table of content can be viewed on Amazon.
Forand, N.R., DeRubeis, R.J., & Amsterdam, J.D. (2013). Combining medication and psychotherapy in the treatment of major mental disorders. In M.J. Lambert (Ed.) Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behaviour change (6th ed.), pp. 735-774. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
This comprehensive chapter covers evidence for combining medication and psychotherapy for several disorders. This month I report on the section of the chapter on depression. Psychotherapy and antidepressant medications appear to have similar efficacy in short-term treatment trials, though psychotherapy has better outcomes than medication in the longer term. Psychotherapeutic treatments including Brief Dynamic Therapy (BDT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) confer enduring benefit by preventing relapse and recurrence when compared to discontinuing medication. Antidepressant medication is modestly effective during initial short-term treatments with remission rates less than 50% and long term recurrence range from 40% to 85%. Combining medication with psychotherapy provides a small to moderate short term advantage over monotherapy of medication or psychotherapy. Combining medication and psychotherapy is more useful for when considering chronicity rather than severity of depression. The results are consistent for BDT, IPT, and for CBT. In the longer term, efficacy of combined treatments is not better than either monotherapy. Taken together, the evidence for combined therapy for depression is modestly positive with little evidence that treatments interfere with each other (by contrast, see the March 2013 blog for findings of interference in combined therapy for anxiety disorders). Nevertheless, prolonged continuation of medication monotherapy is an added expense that is often ineffective. In fact, prolonged antidepressant medication maintenance can worsen the course of depressive illness for some, and efficacy tends to fade after 3 to 6 months of maintenance. Finally, there is emerging evidence of progressive tolerance (tachyphylaxis) or even worsening of symptoms during medication maintenance. Studies suggest that psychotherapy added to maintenance medication was associated with decreased relapse rates when compared to medication alone in the longer term.
Combined treatments (antidepressant medication plus psychotherapy) for major depression provide modest incremental improvements in response over monotherapy. Results of combination treatments are better, though still modest, for those with chronic depression. The evidence does not support the use of combined treatments for mild to moderate depression, unless the individual does not responds to initial monotherapy. Practitioners could consider monotherapy (i.e., psychotherapy or medication) first, followed by switching therapy or augmenting therapy for non-responders. If a patient is started on short term monotherapy of medication, practitioners may consider switching to psychotherapy for better long term relapse prevention.