Cuijpers, P., Karyotaki, E., Eckshtain, D., Ng, M.Y., Corteselli, K.A…. Weisz, J.R. (2020). Psychotherapy for depression across different age groups: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 77, 694-702. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.0164
There are now hundreds of controlled studies showing the efficacy of psychotherapy for depression. Most of these studies have focused on specific age groups, so that psychotherapies were tested for children, adolescents, adults, and older adults separately. Few studies have looked at whether psychotherapy has different effects across age groups. This information might be important because it may indicate that some therapies might have to be altered or specifically designed for the age group. In this meta-analysis, Cuijpers and colleagues collected all randomized controlled trials of psychotherapy vs no treatment, usual care, or some other control group for depression across age groups. They found 366 studies representing over 36,000 patients. The studies included those of children, adolescents, young adults, middle-aged adults, older adults, and older old adults. The overall effect size across all age groups was g = 0.75 (95% CI, 0.67-0.82) suggesting a moderate effect of psychotherapy for depressive symptoms at post-treatment. The effect size for children was the lowest (g = 0.35, 95% CI: 0.15-0.55, k = 15), and the effect size for adolescents (g = 0.55, 95% CI: 0.34-0.75, k = 28) was also low. Effects for middle-aged adults (g = 0.77, 95% CI: 0.67-0.87, k = 304), older adults (g = 0.66, 95% CI: 0.51-0.82, k = 69), and older old adults (g = 0.97, 95% CI: 0.42-1.52, k = 10) were not significantly different. Young adults consistently had significantly better outcomes (g = 0.98, 95% CI: 0.79-1.16) than the other age groups except when compared to older old adults.
It is possible that psychotherapies for depression as currently tested in the research literature are less effective for children and youth. This may be because the treatments that are most often used with children and adolescents are age adapted versions of therapy originally designed for adults. Psychotherapy for children and adolescents are affected by parental and family characteristics, and that these contexts may not be adequately accounted for by the therapies as currently tested and practiced. In any case, this meta-analysis suggests that current therapies for childhood and adolescent depression may need to be reconsidered given their relatively lower effects.