Effect of Disorder-Specific vs Nonspecific Psychotherapy for Chronic Depression: A Randomized Clinical Trial

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ImportanceChronic depression is a highly prevalent and disabling disorder. There is a recognized need to assess the value of long-term disorder-specific psychotherapy.ObjectiveTo evaluate the efficacy of the Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy (CBASP) compared with that of nonspecific supportive psychotherapy (SP).Design, Setting, and ParticipantsA prospective, multicenter, evaluator-blinded, randomized clinical trial was conducted among adult outpatients with early-onset chronic depression who were not taking antidepressant medication. Patients were recruited between March 5, 2010, and October 16, 2012; the last patient finished treatment on October 14, 2013. Data analysis was conducted from March 5, 2014, to October 27, 2016.InterventionsThe treatment included 24 sessions of CBASP or SP for 20 weeks in the acute phase, followed by 8 continuation sessions during the next 28 weeks.Main Outcomes and MeasuresThe primary outcome was symptom severity after 20 weeks (blinded observer ratings) as assessed by the 24-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD-24). Secondary outcomes were rates of response (reduction in HRSD-24 score of ≥50% from baseline) and remission (HRSD-24 score ≤8), as well as self-assessed ratings of depression, global functioning, and quality of life.ResultsAmong 622 patients assessed for eligibility, 268 were randomized: 137 to CBASP (96 women [70.1%] and 41 men [29.9%]; mean [SD] age, 44.7 [12.1] years) and 131 to SP (81 women [61.8%] and 50 men [38.2%]; mean [SD] age, 45.2 [11.6] years). The mean (SD) baseline HRSD-24 scores of 27.15 (5.49) in the CBASP group and 27.05 (5.74) in the SP group improved to 17.19 (10.01) and 20.39 (9.65), respectively, after 20 weeks, with a significant adjusted mean difference of –2.51 (95% CI, –4.16 to –0.86; P = .003) and a Cohen d of 0.31 in favor of CBASP. After 48 weeks, the HRSD-24 mean (SD) scores were 14.00 (9.72) for CBASP and 16.49 (9.96) for SP, with an adjusted difference of –3.13 (95% CI, –5.01 to –1.25; P = .001) and a Cohen d of 0.39. Patients undergoing CBASP were more likely to reach response (48 of 124 [38.7%] vs 27 of 111 [24.3%]; adjusted odds ratio, 2.02; 95% CI, 1.09 to 3.73; P = .03) or remission (27 of 124 [21.8%] vs 14 of 111 [12.6%]; adjusted odds ratio, 3.55; 95% CI, 1.61 to 7.85; P = .002) after 20 weeks. Patients undergoing CBASP showed significant advantages in most other secondary outcomes.Conclusions and RelevanceHighly structured specific psychotherapy was moderately more effective than nonspecific therapy in outpatients with early-onset chronic depression who were not taking antidepressant medication. Adding an extended phase to acute psychotherapy seems promising in this population.Trial Registrationclinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00970437.

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